In the NHL, and Chicago, “Captain” Means Something

Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews, next to Patrick Kane on the bench in Denver

On April 9, ESPN published a magnicifent article speaking about the relevancy  of the role of Captains in professional sports, and how the title and role in the NHL is unique. You need to be an Insider to read the article, but the piece speaks volumes about what being a captain means.

The photo used at the head of the article is of Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews – “Captain Serious” – and it speaks about Toews at some length.

Despite their spot atop of the Central Division, the Blackhawks also have been the subject of recent jokes. Toews, known as Captain Serious, has far too often had to perform another role of the captain: damage control. Most recently, in January, Toews had to address a series of embarrassing photos that appeared on the Internet in which three shirtless Hawks — including 36-year-old vet John Madden, 15 years Toews’ senior — were shown cavorting with women in a Vancouver limousine. Said Toews: “We’re all in this together. We’re all responsible for it. We’re going to answer back with the way we perform and the way we play.” Last season, Toews led the Hawks with 34 goals and the team reached its first Western Conference final since 1995. This year, they’re poised for a Cup run. But long before Toews and the Hawks proved themselves on the scoreboard, Toews proved himself on paper. He took a 350-question, multiple-choice test that helps coaches assess the aptitude of players, and the results validated the decision to make Toews captain at 20. “It said he wouldn’t allow himself to fail, and he wouldn’t allow others to fail, either,” says former Chicago GM Dale Tallon. “Jonathan has an aura about him.”

Hawks fans know what we have in Toews, and insiders in the hockey world are finding out. Toews was the third player selected overall in the 2006 Draft after St Louis’ Erik Johnson and Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal. His resume is one of the best ever at only 21: he was the third-youngest captain in the history of the NHL, and is the youngest player ever to win hockey’s World Triple Crown (World Junior Championship (2007), World Championship (2007) and Winter Olympic Gold Medal (2010)). The only piece missing from that resume is a Stanley Cup.

Toews entered the Winter Olympics as almost an afterthought; Hockey Canada officials have been pretty open about him being one of the last forwards on the roster, and viewed him as either a checking-line center or even possibly playing wing with a “better” center. When the tournament ended, Toews was named the Most Outstanding Forward of the tournament.

As the Blackhawks push to begin the playoffs as the top seed in the Western Conference, it is Toews’ leadership that has been a consistent force on, and off, the ice throughout a roller coaster season. Through injuries (including himself), a goalie controversy and prolonged stretches of both good and bad play, Toews has been a rock in the middle of the Hawks top line. Whether it’s Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Troy Brouwer or Marian Hossa at his side, Toews’ line is always productive.

Blackhawks fans know how lucky we are to have a seasoned, experience Captain that won’t turn 22 for a couple more weeks. Among the group of elite, young Captains that ESPN talks about, Toews is on the cusp of becoming one of the best.

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