Commentary

Captain Serious smiles

Jonathan Toews is the best winner in hockey and, perhaps, the heir to Jordan's throne

Updated: June 10, 2010, 12:15 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

PHILADELPHIA -- He was too superstitious to touch it, so Jonathan Toews, the youngest captain in the NHL, stood with his hands on his hips, his countenance grim, as he was presented the Clarence Campbell trophy at the United Center after the Blackhawks won the Western Conference finals.

That was so three weeks ago.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Toews
AP Photo/Matt SlocumJonathan Toews had 29 points in the playoffs.

On a Wednesday night in Philadelphia -- after a grueling regular season, a gold-medal tour in the Vancouver Olympics, and 22 hard-fought playoff games that started in mid-April and ended in June with a final overtime period capped off by a Patrick Kane overtime goal that almost no one inside the Wachovia Center actually saw -- finally, Captain Serious celebrated.

He didn't just touch the Stanley Cup, he lifted it up over his head in a moment of sweet release. He kissed it like he was a sailor on shore leave.

And Two-Way Toews, the guy who never loses control, the guy who controls the action and lives uncomplicatedly in the moment, well, he almost fell.

"I was scared I was going to lose my balance," he said. "It's so heavy. You're so energetic lifting it up there. It doesn't matter. Every ounce of energy you waste going into it, it's all worth it."

The Stanley Cup doesn't look heavy on TV, does it? It's so shiny and the players lift it up with such apparent ease, you'd think it was made of plastic. How would you know otherwise if you're a hockey player? Most won't touch it, or even get near it, unless they win it. Hockey players are like that. The Stanley Cup means more than any of us could know.

After a 4-3 Game 6 win over the Philadelphia Flyers that gave the Chicago Blackhawks their first Stanley Cup since 1961, it's not a stretch to say that Jonathan Toews is the best winner in hockey and perhaps the rightful heir to Air Jordan's throne as the Windy City champ.

In late February, he was named the best forward in the Olympics after leading Canada to a gold-medal win over the United States.

On June 9, 2010, a day that will live forever in Chicago history, Toews was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner after leading the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup championship.

"You know what?" he said on the ice as media members, family, friends and team personnel surrounded him. "The most special thing is to be on two winning teams like that. Nothing compares to grinding every single day, every week with these guys, in a city like Chicago, winning the Stanley Cup. I don't think it compares to anything. It's the most you can ask of the game of hockey."

Toews had one assist in the Game 6 clincher, when Dustin Byfuglien stuffed in Toews' shot in the first period. Toews didn't score in the finals and racked up only three assists. But he finished with seven goals and 22 assists in the playoffs, burnishing his reputation as a player who can't be defined by statistics.

Toews just turned 22. Guys his age are just graduating college, and he's kissing the Stanley Cup. Toews has lived a dream life already and he can barely grow a beard.

"This year has been unreal," his mother, Andree, said as she watched him do interviews. "Winning the gold medal at the Olympics and now this. What's left -- what's left to do?"

Well, I guess kiss the Cup again next year. But let's wait until the parade's over to look that far ahead.

How big is Jonathan Toews now? In rinks all over Canada, kids will set up behind the net and pretend to be Toews, looking for that perfect pass. In Chicago, he was already a star, getting TV commercials and the like, but now he's a legend. Heck, Michael Jordan wears Toews' jersey, both on his statue outside the United Center and on his person at a recent playoff game. There is no better homage than the greatest team sport athlete in history wearing your name on his back.

"To see him wearing my son's jersey, that was, that was something else," his dad, Bryan Toews, told CBC's website.

We're always looking for the new Jordan in Chicago, and I think we found him on a pair of skates.

"He's such a special person, to start off with," teammate Andrew Ladd said. "The way he handles himself. The pressure this team had going into this year, he kind of put that all on his shoulders and carried us. So you can't explain. He's just a special kid."

"He's one of those once-in-a-generation type of players as far as I'm concerned," team president John McDonough said.

"He loves to win, he loves to play," Kane said. "He's a great player and he's had a hell of a year. He's going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future. I think, one of the greats of all time."

And he's a good son. As he finished his first round of interviews on the ice, Toews apologized for ending them early.

"I've got to find my family," he said.

That wasn't just an excuse, either. He had reason to be a little worried.

"I guess I'm famous for getting lost after games," his mother cheerily said, recounting a story from the 2007 World Championship gold-medal game in Moscow, where she ended up alone outside of an arena at midnight. "I think Jonathan has always worried about me after that."

Andree reminisced about watching Jonathan and his friends pretend to compete for the Cup in a backyard rink in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

"It was just shinny hockey, but it was pretty serious," she said. "They would often talk about how awesome it would be to win the Stanley Cup."

And now it's here. Basketball players don't dream of winning the Larry O'Brien trophy. How many baseball players know what the World Series trophy is named? But the Stanley Cup is different. And this team is different.

"You can't ask for something like this," Toews said. "You just work hard and try and get better and better every day. I'm so blessed to be in a great organization like the Blackhawks and in such an awesome city.

"I'm so excited to bring this home to our fans, but most of all, we wanted to do it for each other. Every single guy respected and liked each other in that room. We got along and worked so hard for each other."

Toews was the third pick in the 2006 draft, and once he arrived in 2007, he quickly became one of the key pieces in the once-improbable rebuilding of a once-proud franchise. It was fitting that Kane scored the winner and Toews won the Conn Smythe. These two are the faces of the franchise, the flashy scorer and the reliable leader. Both were signed to five-year contract extensions last year. They are connected forever after winning a Cup together.

"It didn't really matter who got it," Toews said of the Conn Smythe. "Everyone was just looking at themselves and wondering what they can do to try and pull it off. Obviously, Kaner's been unbelievable all series. That's a special goal he's going to remember the rest of his life."

Three weeks ago, Toews wouldn't touch a trophy because he didn't care about it. Maybe he didn't want to flirt with greatness.

Maybe he was waiting for a real emotional moment, sealed with a kiss.

He finally got it, kissing the Stanley Cup with his teammates as they passed it back and forth over their heads. It was a moment of true joy. We get too few of those in our lives.

"It was such a brief moment, though," Toews said early in the celebration. "I want to get it back and hold on to it for a little bit longer."

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.