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Jonathan Toews’ confidence, desire Hawks’ secret weapons

SUNDAY

BLACKHAWKS
AT SABRES

The facts: 6:30 p.m., NBCSN, 720-AM.

Updated: April 10, 2014 6:54AM



Jonathan Toews doesn’t win everything.

‘‘That was a long time ago,’’ teammate Ben Smith said, almost apologetically, when asked about the 2007 NCAA Frozen Four semifinal, when Boston College beat Toews’ and North Dakota 6-4 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

‘‘It was a good matchup. They had that line with T.J. Oshie, Ryan Duncan and Toews. We had guys like Nathan Gerbe, Brian Boyle and Corey Schneider was our goalie. You never really know how it’s going to play out. I don’t know what it was. College is a bit different. You might not have the depth the pro level has. It was definitely exciting for us getting to the championship game [they lost to Michigan State] and doing it against players like Johnny and Oshie and those guys.’’

Smith was a freshman who scored a tie-breaking goal and had an assist in Boston College’s victory. Toews was an 18-year-old sophomore who scored a goal but came up short in a rare loss with a chance for a championship on the line.

‘‘We knew that line was incredible and [Toews] especially. He was leading the charge on that line for sure,’’ Smith said. ‘‘He’s a special player. We knew we had a tough matchup. We had a checking line against him that I wasn’t on. I don’t know how well they shut him down. But that was a good game.’’

Toews already had won gold medals in three world championship events by then and won a fourth less than a month after the Frozen Four as the only amateur on Canada’s team at the 2007 men’s world championship in Moscow.

It was his performance in that championship event — he two goals and five assists playing with and against NHL-caliber competition — that convinced Toews to turn professional. And the rest is history. Toews has won two Olympic gold medals and two Stanley Cup championships. He’ll turn 26 on April 29.

‘‘I guess it’s kind of hard to believe. It seems to be adding up a little bit,’’ Toews said after returning from Sochi with another gold medal. ‘‘But every time you’re there, you don’t feel surprised to have a chance to win and be a part of a team like that.’’

At this point, the uncanniness of Jonathan Toews and his unyielding resolve to win can’t be overstated or underestimated. He’s an ultimate competitor who loves the game but knows how to pace himself. During last year’s lockout he resisted the temptation to play overseas while an agreement was being negotiated. He returned from Sochi in time for practice last Wednesday but was content to watch his teammates work out.

So it’s no surprise that after an eventful month that included a six-game road trip and the Olympic Games in Sochi, Toews is leading the way as the Blackhawks make the turn for home in preparation for a run at a third Stanley Cup championship. The player who does all the little things to win has five goals in his last three games.

‘‘I feel like I’m getting chances and I feel confident when I get the puck,’’ said Toews, who has 24 goals and 61 points and is a plus-24 in 64 games this season. ‘‘And whether I’m scoring or not, I feel like I’m generating a lot of chances — finding ways to stay patient with the puck and keep my feet moving and eventually things open up. Just getting a lot of help from my linemates. We’ve got to keep it going.’’

Toews is not indefatigable. He made little impact in the Blackhawks’ first game after the Olympic break, a 2-1 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. But the gold medal experience in Sochi is just more fuel for his insatiable desire to win.

‘‘I’m not going to lie — there’s been a couple of games the last week where physically it’s been tough to get up for and play with the energy I want to play with,’’ Toews said. ‘‘Mostly with the speed of the game, I feel more relaxed with the puck and confident I can hang onto it and keep making plays. I’ve definitely taken some confidence from that tournament.’’

Coach Joel Quenneville is familiar with the groove that Toews is in.

‘‘Johnny rises to the occasion — the bigger the stage, the bigger the setting. He’s a special player,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘He’s playing well. He was outstanding in the Olympics. I thought he was one of the best players in the tournament. The last few games it looks like he’s on that same pace.’’

As we know by now, Toews’ confidence is a driving force in the Blackhawks’ locker room. And in a tight race for favorable playoff berths, the Hawks will need every bit of leadership from Toews and the rest of the team’s Cup-winning core, to be in position to win it again.

‘‘It’s his presence in the room that really makes a difference for guys like me and Shawzie [Andrew Shaw] and [Nick] Leddy and [Brandon] Saad — guys that are playing our first couple of years in the league’’ Ben Smith said. ‘‘For us to have a guy like that leading us, even though he’s pretty much around our age, his resume and what he brings to the rink every day is something exciting for us to learn from and to strive and work toward.’’



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