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O Captain: Reflecting On Jonathan Toews’ Leadership Through 1,000 NHL Games

Leaders lead from the front and Toews has always exemplified that.

Jonathan Toews Chicago Blackhawks 1000 Games Stanley Cup
Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

“At this point, in this city, I don’t need a name, I don’t need a number, all we need to say is, the Captain.” Pat Foley said it best when he introduced Jonathan Toews at the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2013 Stanley Cup Championship Rally at Grant Park. At that time, Toews had just won his second Stanley Cup. Last night, the now 14-year veteran, played in his 1,000th NHL game.

From a very young age, Jonathan Toews reached legend status. He was named captain of the Blackhawks in 2008 at just 20 years old. Two years later, at just 22, Toews captained the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.

Back in those early years for Toews, the Blackhawks were the talk of the town. You couldn’t go anywhere in Chicago without seeing an Indian Head sweater with the ‘C’ stitched onto the chest. He was the ultimate professional — someone you were proud to say was the leader of your favorite team.

Toews entered the league side-by-side with superstar Patrick Kane. Kane gets a bulk of the attention, and rightfully so, because of his gaudy statistics. However, the team surely doesn’t have all of their success without No. 19.

What made the Chicago Blackhawks great during all of their Stanley Cup runs was their big-time players always stepping up when it mattered most. Jonathan Toews was surely no different. Toews was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs. His 29 points are tied for the most ever by a Blackhawk in one playoff.

Jonathan Toews Conn Smythe Trophy
Jonathan Toews receives the Conn Smythe trophy from Gary Bettman | Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Leaders lead from the front and Toews has always exemplified that. There is a laundry list of his big goals in the playoffs. There’s the hat trick vs. Vancouver in 2010. The OT winner vs. St Louis in 2014. The other OT winner vs. Phoenix in 2012. Toews always put the team on his back.

Toews always had a never-say-die attitude. Ironically enough, two of his biggest playoff moments both came in losses. In 2011, the Blackhawks found themselves down three games to nothing against the Canucks in the first round. However, the resilient bunch fought back to force a Game 7 after an overtime win in Game 6.

In that Game 7, on the road in Vancouver, the Blackhawks were nearly down and out again. With three minutes left, they trailed 1-0 and took a minor penalty. It was looking like Vancouver may be able to ice the game. Not with the captain on the ice though.

Midway through the penalty kill, Toews stole the puck at center ice. He carried it into the zone and skated through three Vancouver defenders until he was checked to the ice. As he was going down, Toews managed to work the puck to Marian Hossa, who put it on net. Hossa’s shot was stopped but the rebound found Toews, who scored the tying goal from his knees. It was one of the most remarkable individual efforts you’ll ever see.

Of course, the Blackhawks eventually lost in overtime after Chris Campoli turned the puck over in his own zone and Alex Burrows shattered hearts all around Chicago. However, just getting to overtime, in Game 7, after being down 3-0 in the series, was remarkable. That was because Jonathan Toews’ leadership didn’t allow quitting.

One of Toews’ other great moments also came in a loss. You could make the argument that the 2015 Western Conference Finals was the greatest series in NHL history. The Blackhawks and Ducks went to absolute war. The Ducks looked like they had the advantage after winning Game 5 in overtime to take a 3-2 series lead. However, things weren’t so black and white.

Game 5 had no business going to overtime. The Ducks lead 4-2 with two minutes left. In a series where there was very little room on the ice, a two-goal lead that late in the game felt insurmountable. If you don’t know what insurmountable means, don’t try looking it up in Toews’ dictionary, because it isn’t in there.

The Captain gave the Blackhawks hope after hammering a one-timer past Freddie Andersen to bring the Blackhawks within one. But, there was still little time to get another. Well, plenty of time if you ask No. 19.

With under 50 seconds remaining in regulation, the Anaheim crowd rose to its feet. Corey Crawford had vacated the Blackhawks net for an extra attacker. It felt like Game 6 would now be a must-win for the Blackhawks.

However, after an Andrew Shaw pinch at the lower boards caused the puck to come free from an Anaheim defenseman, Toews corralled it on his stick below the goal line. Not many players would look to shoot from “the rockstar zone”, but Toews did, banked the puck in off of the netminder, and tied the game.

The Anaheim crowd was stunned. The Blackhawks had scored two goals in the final two minutes to force overtime. The Ducks won early in overtime, but that overtime loss felt nothing like any other overtime loss.

Sure, the Blackhawks had lost on the scoreboard and were heading back to Chicago facing a must-win Game 6. However, they had gained the momentum, even in defeat. Most importantly, Jonathan Toews broke Freddie Andersen with those two goals.

Andersen had been a thorn in the Blackhawks’ side through the first five games of the series, but he was not the same after Toews’ two late goals in Game 5. Andersen allowed a combined 10 goals in Games 6 and 7 — both Blackhawks wins — and Chicago advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. Toews opened the scoring in Game 7. He also notched the second goal to let the hockey world know the Blackhawks would not be denied in their quest for dynasty status.

It’s symbolic that two of Toews’ biggest moments came in losses. Not because that was natural, the guy has three Stanley Cup rings that say otherwise. But it’s symbolic because it took the attention away from him. Had the Blackhawks won Game 7 in Vancouver in 2011 and made a run in those playoffs, people would still be talking about Toews’ goal to force overtime.

Jonathan Toews 2015 Stanley Cup
Jonathan Toews hoists his third Stanley Cup. | Photo: USATSI

Had the Blackhawks won in overtime vs. the Ducks, we may be talking about one of the best comebacks sprung by an individual player in playoff history. The attention didn’t matter though. It was all about setting a tone and setting a standard, and that is what Toews’ career has been.

Even now, as the Blackhawks don’t do much winning, Toews still battles, he still sets the tone on the ice. Earlier this month, the Blackhawks played Ottawa in what was a meaningless game for both teams when you consider the standings.

The Senators took a 2-0 lead early, and Connor Murphy was stretchered off the ice after taking a violent hit along the boards. Minutes later, Kirby Dach took a big hit along the boards as well. Toews wasn’t having it. The Blackhawks weren’t going to be bullied.

Toews immediately dropped the gloves with Zach Sanford. He then proceeded to score two goals and the Blackhawks came back to win. Leaders lead from the front.

Leadership is tough to find. The Blackhawks were lucky enough to find it in a 20-year-old kid back in 2008. That leadership helped raise three Stanley Cup banners to the United Center rafters. Those banners will one day hang across from a No. 19 banner.

The story of Jonathan Toews can not be written within the numbers, even though the numbers are great. Toews ranks sixth in goals, sixth in points, third in game-winning goals, and fifth in playoff points in Blackhawks history.

But as previously mentioned, the story doesn’t lie within the numbers. The story of Jonathan Toews revolves around the little things. The countless faceoffs won, the endless amount of penalties killed, the in-game teaching sessions — the list doesn’t end. Toews leads at all times, even when the lights aren’t bright.

On the flip side, he was always there to step up when the lights were bright as well. Toews opened the scoring for the Blackhawks in Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final vs. Boston. He also added the primary assist on Bryan Bickell’s tying goal that came 17 seconds before Dave Bolland’s game-winner.

So, with Jonathan Toews becoming the eighth player in Chicago Blackhawks history to log 1,000 games, we will remember all of his moments big and small. We’ll remember the leadership most of all. The Blackhawks could not have asked for a better player or person to represent their team over the last 14 seasons. Here’s to hoping there are many more.

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Patrick is an avid Chicago sports fan. He is a Blackhawks season ticket holder. Blogging all things Bears, Blackhawks and White Sox, Chicago is well covered. Oh, and catch him talking and drinking on Four Feathers Podcast and Bears On Tap.

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