Year of the Toews: How Flying Under the Radar Has Led to Superstar Status
It's the same old story for Jonathan Toews. It's been that way his entire career. But if this year has shown the hockey world anything; it's that Toews can no longer be looked over as one of the best players on the planet.
Things are changing for the budding super star —and quickly —as he stakes his claim as one of the best players in the world; he just happens to go about it a bit differently than the rest.
It started early on for Toews when he, already looked at as one of the best players in his draft year, was selected first overall in the WHL Bantam Draft by the Tri-City Americans in 2003.
To be the top pick in a CHL Draft is a massive stepping stone for a young player, but instead of Toews jumping directly into the spotlight early on, he opted to take a different, less popular direction.
After playing one year in high school hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary's in Minnesota he chose to attend the University of North Dakota, a route normally not taken by players who look to have a future in the NHL.
He quickly became one of the best players in college hockey, leading the Fighting Sioux to two-straight NCAA Frozen Four appearances in 2006 and 2007.
He had also already captained Team Canada West to a gold medal in the U-17 Championships in 2005, as well as winning the tournament's MVP honours before even stepping foot in college.
He was becoming a highly decelerated player at a very young age, and yet true to form, Toews avoided the spotlight and kept to himself. He didn't need the publicity, he simply loved the game he got to play everyday.
He was the youngest player named to Team Canada at the 2006 World Junior Championships, helping his club advance to the finals and beat Russia to win the Gold Medal. He wasn't a big part of the team's success, only registering two assists, but it set the stage for what will forever be considered as one of the most impressive performances of the tournament's history.
The very next year in 2007, he was again named to the Junior Team and was once again awarded the Gold Medal. But the world was sent notice of Toews' skill when his name was called three times in the shootout against the US in the semi-final game.
He scored on all three attempts, consecutively; as Canada went on to win the game.
It was one of the most clutch performances ever seen in International hockey, and all at the hands of a teenager simply doing what he did best.
Finally, after being selected third overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2006, Toews made his debut in the NHL in 2007. He scored on the first shot in his first NHL game, and owns the record for the second-longest scoring streak to start an NHL career at 10 games.
His stellar rookie campaign was overshadowed by teammate Patrick Kane, who took home the Calder Trophy, but that didn't stop the hawks from naming Toews the captain of the team the very next season in 2008.
He had come through a lot and won at almost every level he played at, and even though his team honoured him with the C, he still wasn't even considered the best player on his own team.
But he was used to that.
Then came 2010, a year that started with everyone talking about Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, and the dream matchup between the two in both the Winter Olympics and Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It’s been a year just like any other, with the super stars hogging the spotlight, and Toews going about his business. He’s been given the nickname "Mr. Serious" by his teammates, not worried about anything but the team, while he and the Hawks fought for the top spot in the Western Conference.
Then came the much anticipated 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where Toews was named the final forward on the team, figured to play a minor role on Team Canada's quest to win Gold on home ice.
All he did was outshine every player on the team, score the opening goal of the Gold Medal game, get named the best player of the tournament, and was what many would call the most important player for the Gold Medal victory.
Not so under the radar anymore.
The talk quickly began of Toews being considered in the same super star category usually reserved for the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin. And as the playoffs came around, it’s clearer than ever.
Toews is not only just in the conversation when it comes to the best player in the NHL, he’s leaving the others in the dust right now.
As the Blackhawks celebrated their 3-2 overtime victory in Game Three Friday night against the San Jose Sharks, taking a commanding 3-0 series lead, Toews finds himself just five victories away from hoisting the Stanley Cup.
He currently is riding a 12-game point streak, which is a Hawk record in the playoffs, passing none other than Stan Makita (who was 22 the last time Chicago won the Cup, the same age as Toews now).
He leads all playoff scorers with 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists); six more than the next best (Mike Cammalleri), and is by far the favourite for the Conn Smythe Trophy if Chicago is to reach the Finals.
There is no flying under the radar anymore for the quiet, monotone superstar. Everyone in hockey is talking about him. Everyone in hockey is talking about how good he really is.
He’s not only in the spotlight now, but as the NHL’s other superstars fall out of the race on by one, Toews has the light right on him.
And only him.
It may not be the ideal situation for a kid who’d rather just go unnoticed. But just as he’s done his entire hockey career, be one of the most clutch players of our time, he continues to get it done when it matters most.
The only difference is that this year, for the first time in his life it seems, everyone is talking about him. All eyes are on Toews.
And something tells me he’ll be just fine with all eyes on him in June if he’s standing at center ice holding the Stanley Cup high above his head.
If only for a moment, then, we might just see the not so serious side of Mr. Toews.
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