Nineteen and life to go

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

Truth be told, Jonathan Toews would prefer to be wearing No. 9 on his back.

He wore it when he skated for the University of North Dakota.

He also donned it before then with Shattuck-St. Mary's, the high school powerhouse.

Seeing as the rising star centre plays with the Chicago Blackhawks, who retired Bobby Hull's number years ago, Toews switched to No. 19, which somehow seems appropriate.

After all, the third overall choice from the 2006 draft has been compared to Bryan Trottier in the past and there are a couple of other known stars for him to emulate -- and those in the know believe Toews has the ability to draw comparisons.

"I've made it clear to a lot of people that Joe Sakic has been my hero for quite a few years and I've always looked up to him and guys like Stevie Y (Yzerman)," Toews said earlier this week. "I think 19 was a classic number in my regards and it happened to be available, so I used the chance to pick that one up."

Hockey fans in this area have had plenty of chances to see Toews in action, both live and on the tube. Remember him starring with Shattuck-St. Mary's at the Mac's Midget tournament a few years ago?

Remember him starring for Canada's world junior squad last Christmas? (Who can forget him scoring three straight times in the semifinal shootout against the U.S.?)

Remember him chipping in with Canada's gold-medal winning world championship team right out of college.

But tonight, the 19-year-old Winnipegger -- he could still be playing junior, and not as an overager -- will show his wares to the city in person when the Blackhawks face the Flames at the Saddledome (7 p.m., Sportsnet).

It's his first Western Canada road swing, something the teen who's among freshmen leaders with eight goals and eight assists is anticipatng with excitement.

"With our first stint in Toronto, that was a lot of fun. You see the attention that those guys get every single day with the media just crawling over the rink," he said. "It's Canada and obviously people are crazy about hockey up there.

"I'm looking forward to it. As a young guy, there's a lot of new things I'm experiencing in my rookie season but one of the things I'm going to enjoy most about it is getting a chance to play in those traditional cities back in Canada."

Thanks to Toews and fellow super-freshman Patrick Kane, the first pick of this year's draft, Western Canada can get excited about seeing the 'Hawks, too.

Chicago may be a franchise downtrodden for what seems an eternity, but thanks to Toews and Kane, the Blackhawks awoke yesterday sitting second in the Central Division -- and fourth in the conference -- with an 11-8-1 record.

Not only that, it's becoming cool again in the Windy City to support the Blackhawks.

"Our hockey club's been through a lot the past decade or so, so it's really exciting to see the seats fill up a little more," Toews said.

"We've had a couple of big wins at home against Detroit. As long as we keep playing like that and beating strong teams, eventually the interest is going to come back.

"I think we appreciate it a little more because we've all seen what this city is like when our team is not doing so well.

"It's a lot of fun when the team's playing like that."

With words like that, you can't help but believe that No. 19 fits Toews perfectly.


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