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Toews Wins Third MSSA Manitoba Male Athlete of the Year

For the third time, the great hockey star, Jonathan Toews has been named Manitoba’s Male Athlete of the Year.

On Sunday night, while Toews Chicago Blackhawks played host to the Winnipeg Jets at United Centre in Chicago, Toews was awarded his third  (previously in 2007 and 2010) athlete of the year award as voted on and presented by the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

Manitoba Male Athlete of the Year, Jonathan Toews.

Manitoba Male Athlete of the Year, Jonathan Toews.

The Jennifer Jones curling team won the Team Award while swimmer Breanne Siwicki was named Female Athlete of the Year. The late hockey agent, Don Baizley, won the MSSA Dallis Beck Good Guy Award.

Toews was not only captain of the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, he also was named the winner of the Frank Selke Memorial Trophy in 2013 as the NHL’s best defensive forward. Toews has been captain of the Blackhawks for both of their Stanley Cups in the last four years.

Last season, he ranked second in scoring on his team with 48 points and shared the Chicago team lead in goals with 23.  He was third in the NHL with a plus-28 plus-minus rating, and became the third Blackhawks player in history to record more than 20 goals and 40 points in each of his first six seasons.

Toews received a total of 25 first place votes and 156 points as he dominated the male balloting again. The runner-up with 121 points was Anthony Coombs, the outstanding running back for the University of Manitoba Bisons.

Jonathan Toews at MTS Centre (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Jonathan Toews at MTS Centre (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

In our December issue of Manitoba Hockey News, Toews was our featured cover story. Here is that story: Jonny Hockey.

He’s only 25 years old and yet he’s one of the most decorated hockey players in Canadian history. Winnipeg’s Jonathan Toews has already surpassed Terry Sawchuk, Bobby Clarke and Andy Bathgate as Manitoba’s greatest player. He’s an NHL superstar, but do you really know Jonny Hockey?

Jonathan Toews has had a lake named after him. He has just been named to his second Canadian Olymoic team. When he brought the Stanley Cup back to Winnipeg in 2010, he took it waterskiing. When he returned to Winnipeg to play his first game against the Jets, he spent more time answering questions in French than he did in English. He has never finished lower than second in an international competition.

Toews might be only 25, but there are more fast facts about the Captain of the Chicago Blackhawks than any other player in the annals of Manitoba hockey. Of course, that’s another fast fact: Captain of the Hawks. At the start of 2008-09 season, he was named captain of the Blackhawks. He was 20, the third youngest captain in NHL history (after Vincent Lecavalier and Sidney Crosby).

To call Toews the greatest player ever to come out of Manitoba is not even stretching the hyperbole. Even for those of us who grew up with the likes of Sawchuk, Bathgate, Clarke, Turk Broda and Kenny Reardon, what Toews has already accomplished is mind-boggling.

Jonathan Toews (Photo by Pal Grotnes)

Jonathan Toews with the Olympic team (Photo by Pal Grotnes)

Here’s a quick list, just to get it out of the way:

(1) He was selected first overall in 2003 WHL Bantam Draft out of the Winnipeg Warriors organization by the Tri-City Americans. However, he decided to attend Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a prep school in Minnesota in order to maintain his eligibility to play NCAA Division 1 hockey.

(2) When he was 19, and a sophomore at the University of North Dakota, he was selected to play with the NHL stars at the 2007 IIHF World Hockey Championship. His performance at the tournament was nothing short of remarkable. He had two goals and five assists, plus a game winner and a three-assist effort. He also scored the winning goal in the semifinal. Not bad for a teenager who has never played an NHL game. Canada defeated Finland 4-2 to win gold. Toews played tremendously well.

(3) Toews has won international gold medals at the 2005 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, the 2006 and 2007 World Junior Hockey Championship, the 2007 World Championship and the 2010 Winter Olympics. He says, “I’m excited about going to Sochi next year.” After all, there is more gold to mine.

(4) In 2010, he won the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP in the Stanley Cup playoffs and Olympic Gold. He’s the only player ever to accomplish that hat-trick.

(5) At the 2010 Olympics, he led Team Canada with eight points and led the entire Olympic tournament with seven assists. He not only led Canada to the Gold Medal, but he was also named the IIHF’s top forward in the Olympic Tournament.

(6) During the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, he was clearly the best player on the ice. In Game 4 of the Western Conference semi-final against Vancouver, he had three goals and two assists and tied Stan Mikita’s Blackhawks record for most points (5) in a single game.

(7) In 2004-05, his final season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Minnesota, Toews had 48 goals and 110 points in 64 games. He was the captain of Team Western, the team that won gold at the World Under-17 Tournament in Lethbridge. He was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

(8) In 2006-07, he had 18 goals and 46 points in 34 games with the University of North Dakota. He also led Canada to a Gold Medal in the World Junior Championships. That was the tournament when he scored three consecutive shootout goals in a huge win over the United States.

(9) Now in his seventh NHL season, Toews has won two Stanley Cups, a Selke Trophy and a Conn Smythe Trophy. He has been an all-star once (2013). He’s never scored 100 points in a season, but he’s had two 30-goal seasons. In his career, he’s never had a minus season and in total is plus-123.

(10) During this past lockout-shortened season of 2013, Toews and his roommate Patrick Kane, led the Hawks to the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup. Toews won the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward and was the second team all-star centre.

Jonathan Toews with the Cup in 2013 (David Banks Photo)

Jonathan Toews with the Cup in 2013 (David Banks Photo)

OK, that’s enough of that. Awards and championships and numbers say a lot about players, but not everything. After all, Toews came from Winnipeg and became one of the greatest champions in NHL history. He is a rarity, but his success proves that it’s possible to start in the Winnipeg minor hockey program and become an NHL superstar.

Toews was born to Bryan and Andree (Gilbert) at St. Boniface Hospital. French came as naturally to him as English. So did hockey. Bryan put skates on him at three, he was in organized hockey before he was five and was the best skater in atom hockey at seven.

Like so many Winnipeg dads, Bryan built a backyard rink for Jonathan and his younger brother David at their home in St. Vital. Bryan would skate with the kids and while many people point to Jonathan’s incredible work ethic as the reason for his success, it’s something that started as a family affair. The boys would skate until mom made them come in and what might be called hard work by scouts, coaches and pundits is simply fun for Jonathan.

“He could always skate,” Bryan once told me as we waited in line for U.S. Customs at Winnipeg International Airport. “He just had this natural ability, that made him different, a little better I guess, than most young players.

“Jonathan could see things you’d show him and then go right out there and do them much better than I’d describe them. I remember I had him on the lake when he was four. He had such a natural stride. I remember several parents coming up to me and asking, ‘How old is that kid?’”

Bryan also tells a story that illustrates how Jonathan grew up to be “Captain Serious.” It was the moment Bryan realized that his boy was more than just another kid playing hockey. He was kid who hated losing more than he loved winning.

“He was on a team of seven-year-olds who had just lost a game at a Christmas tournament to a team of eight-year olds,” Bryan recalled. “After the game, he was crying. He was whining about it. He wasn’t sad because he lost. He was angry, really angry.

“I said to him, ‘losing that game wasn’t so bad, the other team was all older boys.’ But he refused to accept that. He didn’t care. He always believed that when he was on the ice against any team, he should win. He believed he should win every game.”

Toews with the puck against Vancouver.

Toews with the puck against Vancouver.

Tony Cogan pitched for the Kansas City Royals in 2001 and then bounced around baseball’s minor leagues until he landed near his hometown of Chicago.

By the time he reached his early 30s, he became the ace of the Gary SouthShore RailCats’ staff. Playing for Gary, he was able to live in his old Chicago neighborhood and still play pro ball. The arrangement also gave Cogan an opportunity to pursue his passion away from baseball: He’s a hockey fan – more precisely, a Blackhawks fan – and he’s become an even bigger fan of the team’s young captain.

“Oh yeah, my dad and I are still Blackhawks season ticket holders,” Cogan said before a game in Winnipeg. “Say, do you guys know Jonathan Toews? He’s from Winnipeg. Does he, like come to these games sometimes? If he did, he could sit in our dugout. A lot of our guys are Hawks fans and Toews, well, he’s just awesome.”

That’s how a lot of people in Chicago – and Winnipeg – view Toews. He’s more than just a superstar. He’s a legitimate role model and is exactly the type of player, and person, that hockey fans believe every player should be.

One of the people who spent much of his NHL scouting career following around Toews was New York Rangers scout Tom Thompson. The former assistant general manager of the Minnesota Wild has always seen Toews as the consummate NHL player.

“He was always good, always better than every other kid,” said Thompson. “He was smarter, he skated better and he had better skills. I’ve watched him since he was eight or nine. He was one of those kids you knew would be good. He took it very seriously. He just liked to play and wanted to win more than anyone else.”

Toews in scoring position (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Toews in scoring position (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Doug Sinclair, the current assistant coach of the Triple A Winnipeg Thrashers along with Manitoba’s Under-16 team and a scout for the WHL’s Everett Silvertips remembers scouring Toews in his bantam days.

“I’d probably been a scout for half a season and I saw Jonathan play, maybe 20 games,” Sinclair said. “You could tell he was going to be great. He wasn’t the fastest skater, but he always went to the right spot. He thought the game very well. We knew he’d get bigger and when he did, his skating improved and he became extremely fast. You just knew with Jonathan. He was going to be an NHL player.”

For his part, Toews has always been self-aware. He knows what he means to the game and to Blackhawks fans, and he knows how important winning is to the fans in Chicago.

“The fans definitely, and probably everyone in Chicago, have pretty high expectations for us,” said Toews, who was Chicago’s first pick (third overall) in 2006. “We just can’t panic, worrying about it. We know we’re capable of being at the top of our conference. There are going to be days when there are issues, we know that, but we have to stay tight as a team and keep together in the locker room. If we do that, I know we can be right there come playoff time.”

Before the playoffs, however, Toews will spend most of the month of February in Sochi, Russia, with Canada’s Olympic hockey team. There has already been talk that he should be the captain.

“It’s a wonderful experience,” he said of playing in the Olympics. “It’s even better when you win gold. I think we’ll have a good team, but I’m not thinking about that yet. That’s a few months away. I’m excited about it, but it’s not at the top of my mind.”

Jonathan Toews (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Jonathan Toews (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Early last month, Toews returned to Winnipeg to play against the Jets for the first time. Not surprisingly, he called it one of the most important events of his career. After all, he still spends much of his off-season in Winnipeg and has always said that he grew up a Jets fan. Oh yeah, and that lake named after him, is right on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. Coming home is obviously important.

“I grew up cheering for the Jets,” he said with a smile. “How else do you grow up playing in Winnipeg? To come back home and play against the Jets is pretty exciting.

“If you just take a moment to think about it, playing in Winnipeg will bring back a lot of memories. If anyone asks me why I wanted to be a hockey player, that’s how it started – watching the Winnipeg Jets play while I was growing up.”

“It’s great for my family and friends back here in Winnipeg. People really love hockey, they’re very passionate about it. Playing in Canadian rinks is always fun. The atmosphere is always great. In Winnipeg, it’s extra special.”

Jonathan Toews is an exceptional, all-around hockey star who takes the game and his reputation very seriously. He might just be Manitoba’s greatest export. Ever.

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