PHILADELPHIA — If Jonathan Toews has a hockey checklist, there might not be a whole lot of boxes remaining after this amazing season.
The 22-year-old Chicago Blackhawks captain is a Stanley Cup champion, a Conn Smythe Trophy winner, and an Olympic gold medallist. And he earned all those things in the past five months.
“What’s left?” asked teammate John Madden, now a three-time Stanley Cup champion. “Incredible hockey player, mature beyond his years. It’s been an absolute pleasure to watch him work. It’s hard to believe he is only 22. His future is so bright.”
Toews was held to only three assists in the finals, but the last of those got Chicago going in Wednesday night’s 4-3 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers that finished the series in six games.
It’s been quite a ride for the rising star, who fell one point shy of the playoff scoring lead. That didn’t matter a bit when it came time to pick the Conn Smythe winner that honours the top player in the post-season.
“There are so many guys on the team that deserve that trophy,” Toews said. “Nobody is worried about that one. It was the big silver one we were after. It’s awesome. We work hard for each other, and it paid off.”
He is the second consecutive young captain of a Stanley Cup champion, following the path paved last season by Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby who did it at 21. Toews turned 22 a little more than a month ago.
Toews finished second in the scoring race with 29 points. Only a three-point night by Philadelphia’s Danny Briere in the Cup clincher kept Toews from an impressive hat trick of hardware.
“I’m exhausted now — more tired than I was during the game,” he said. “The last couple of nights have been torture, not being able to sleep, being so excited every moment of the day. It’s everything it was hyped up to be.”
Throw in the Olympic gold medal Toews earned with Canada at the Vancouver Games, and it’s been one whirlwind year for the Winnipeg native.
“They’re both special in their own way,” said Toews, the third player to win Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup in the same year. “To represent your own country, especially Canada, at the Olympics and your home country, that’s something you’ll probably never experience again in your lifetime as a hockey player. That’s pretty cool.
“On the other hand, everything you go through, the tough times over a long season like we had this year, with such a great group of guys like we have in this locker-room, nothing compares to that camaraderie and what you go through as a team.”
With Chicago’s win, Toews also joined the Triple Gold Club with a Stanley Cup plus gold medals at an Olympics and an IIHF world championship — he was a member of Canada’s gold medal team at the 2007 worlds in Moscow.
He becomes the 24th member of the exclusive club, and the seventh Canadian behind Rob Blake, Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Eric Staal. Staal joined this year when he won Olympic gold.
Team Canada coach Mike Babcock became the first coach in the club with the victory in Vancouver.
Toews helped set up Dustin Byfuglien’s power-play goal in the first period, giving him a Blackhawks playoff record-tying 29th point and franchise-best 22nd assist in 22 post-season games. Denis Savard posted 20 assists and 29 points for Chicago in 1985.
That was enough to impress the voters for the award that recognizes a player’s performance throughout the entire post-season, not just the finals.
“It’s fun to be around a kid like that,” forward Patrick Kane said. “He loves to win. He loves to play. 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 as far as one of the greats of all time.”
It is only fitting that Toews led the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup title since 1961, ending the longest current drought in the NHL. Toews became the first piece of Chicago’s rebuilding process when he was chosen with the No. 3 pick in the 2006 draft.
Kane joined him a year later when he was taken No. 1 overall.
That was just the beginning.
Toews was a key cog in the Blackhawks’ drive to consecutive appearances in the Western Conference finals. After putting up 25 goals and 68 points during the regular season, when Chicago won the Central Division and earned the No. 2 seed in the West, Toews carried the Blackhawks farther than they had been in nearly 50 years.
He had one goal and five assists in the four-game sweep of top-seeded San Jose in the conference finals and carried a 13-game point streak into the championship round — a run that produced seven goals and 18 assists.
“The bigger the setting, the bigger the game. The bigger he seems to rise to that challenge and that occasion,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Toews. “He was a big factor tonight.
“His competitiveness of wanting to be the best he can be every time he hits the ice is noticed.”