Proving them wrong

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:03 AM ET

Steve Yzerman wasn't so sure about the kid from Winnipeg.

Team Canada's general manager for the World Hockey Championship, Yzerman was aware of the exploits of one Jonathan Toews, but wasn't convinced an 18-year-old college student could beat out seasoned NHL players for a roster spot.

You might recall what Yzerman told us when he dropped in for the world women's tournament earlier this month.

"I expect we'll have the opportunity to pick all NHL players," Yzerman said on April 3.

His head coach, though, had been watching Toews for years, and had other ideas.

"I asked for him," Andy Murray told Sun Media from Moscow yesterday. "I would say he's an NHL player. When Steve said this was a tournament for NHL guys, he was right."

Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

Canada's world junior hero less than four months ago, and someone who right now should be writing exams at the University of North Dakota, Toews starts a crash course in men's hockey when Canada plays its first game of the world championship against Germany tomorrow.

"It's incredible," Toews said from a hotel room in downtown Moscow. "Right off the hop I was playing with guys like Rick Nash and Shane Doan. I'm rooming with Shane Doan. I just told myself to take it all in, and learn every little thing I can from these guys."

Toews was at UND when Yzerman visited his hometown. But that doesn't mean he was oblivious to Yzerman's comments.

A little thing like a future hall-of-famer's viewpoint, though, wasn't going to discourage him.

"I heard he said that," Toews said. "The best thing about Canada and how they go about their business on the international level is they don't guarantee anybody anything. Nothing is for sure."

So when Murray scored him an invitation to a pre-worlds camp and exhibition game in Finland earlier this week, he put his head down, went to work, scored a big goal -- and made the team.

That keeps alive a pretty impressive streak: Toews has never been cut, at any level.

"It compares a lot to when I was a 17-year-old going to the world junior camp. I didn't want to be sent home, and I had that same attitude this week," Toews said.

"I expected to play well and be able to keep up with them. It's just a matter of believing in what I'm able to do."

Taken aback

That doesn't mean he wasn't a little taken aback when Murray approached him in practice Wednesday and told him the good news.

"He came and asked me how I was doing in school and what I'd have to do to make up for my exams," Toews recalled. "Next thing he said was, 'We're taking you to Russia with us.' I basically took off and had a pretty good practice after that."

Toews knows the transition isn't going to be seamless.

Despite being welcomed with open arms by the vets, he admits to being a tad star-struck, at times.

I mean, he's centring a line with Doan and Nash, for Pete's sake.

"Just being a young guy again, I haven't said much this week," Toews said. "I'm a little nervous being around a lot of big-name players that have such good reputations in the NHL ... they've helped me kind of find my place, and hopefully I can keep playing well through the tournament."

Is there any doubt left about what Toews will do next season?

So far, he hasn't declared an intention to leave school and take a crack at the Chicago Blackhawks, who drafted him third overall last summer.

But it seems Murray's already done it for him.

"I'm just glad I have a little extra time to keep playing with these guys, before having to do it either next season or somewhere down the road," Toews said.

For now, there's another game to play.

And a coach to prove right.


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