Toews set to face hometown team

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews will face the team he grew up watching, the Jets, when the club...

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews will face the team he grew up watching, the Jets, when the club visits Chicago Thursday. (QMI Agency file photo)

KEN WIEBE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:30 PM ET

CHICAGO - Jonathan Toews knows a thing or two about dealing with pressure.

The captain of the Chicago Blackhawks has already won a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal in his young hockey career, but one thing he hasn’t done yet is face his hometown team.

That will change on Thursday night as the Blackhawks host the Winnipeg Jets in their lone meeting of the 2011-12 NHL season — barring what would be a somewhat unexpected duel in the Stanley Cup final.

Toews is expecting a stiff test from the team he once cheered for as a youngster growing up in St. Vital.

“The pressure of that home opener is going to be off them and they know they can just go and play now,” said Toews. “It’s not going to be an easy game for us.”

Toews has kept a close eye on the NHL’s return to Winnipeg and on Thursday, his parents — Bryan Toews and Andree Gilbert — will be in attendance to see him face the Jets.

“They wouldn’t miss it. It’s a special game for sure,” said Toews, who has a goal in two games this season. “You’re pumped up and excited about every single game you’re going to play but this will be one of those games I try and step it up and make something happen.

“It’s not my team but as an outsider looking in, it’s pretty cool to see that tradition restored.”

Toews checked out most of the Jets’ season-opening loss to the Montreal Canadiens and can’t wait for his first visit to the MTS Centre.

There’s been plenty of speculation in the last couple days that the Jets might switch places with the Detroit Red Wings and move to the Central Division next season — which could leave the Blackhawks with a new rival.

“Before you know it, we could be going there a lot,” said Toews. “There are pros and cons to everything. The pro would be not having to deal with Detroit on a regular basis but it’s great for our fans and great for that rivalry. It keeps us in check as a team as Detroit has always been a measuring point.

“Personally, I wouldn’t mind playing against Winnipeg but you learn to kind of dislike playing against your division rivals.”

Although his younger brother David — who was acquired by the Blackhawks from the New York Islanders this summer — was eventually sent to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League, Jonathan enjoyed playing with him during the pre-season.

“It was fun,” said Jonathan. “Not too many brothers get the chance to do that, especially at this level. We haven’t played on the same team since we were six and four. It’s been awhile.”

Jets head coach Claude Noel recognizes the importance of Toews’ contributions to the Blackhawks and actually compared his role to that of Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

“It’s clear that Toews drives their team, that’s why he wears the C,” Noel said on Wednesday. “You can just watch that, it’s no different than Crosby.”

Blackhawks defenceman Sean O’Donnell has played with many high-end players during his 17 seasons in the NHL and knows exactly what makes Toews so valuable.

“Obviously he’s a Conn Smythe winner and a great player, but it doesn’t just happen,” said O’Donnell. “I’ve played with a lot of great one’s and it may look effortless out there, but behind the scenes there are hours and hours of hard work. Anybody that’s been around (Toews), knows it’s no different with him.”


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