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Intense Toews playing beyond his years as Blackhawks' captain

CALGARY - The unwavering brown-eyed stare is still there, but Jonathan Toews now actually blinks occasionally.

When the Chicago Blackhawks captain was 17 years old and playing for Canada at the 2006 world junior championship in Vancouver, a conversation felt like a stare down. Someone's eyes would start watering and they wouldn't be his.

Toews hasn't changed much since coming into the NHL. He's still driven and intense. The Winnipeg native wouldn't have been named Chicago's captain last summer at the age of 20 if he wasn't.

"He's Mr. Serious," Blackhawks forward David Bolland said. "It's like he's been in this league for 20 years. He doesn't act his age."

Toews is the NHL's youngest captain and third-youngest in league history to be given the 'C' behind Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh) and Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay), who were both named captains of their respective teams at age 19.

The Blackhawks are making their first playoff appearance in seven years, so Toews's youth - he turns 21 next week - hasn't been an issue in his leadership.

"He's the captain and whatever he says I listen to," said Bolland, 22. "I don't turn my head because he's young.

"He's a smart kid."

Toews (pronounced Taves) wanted the mantle of leadership, even though he'd only played one season in the NHL.

"I knew it wasn't going to be easy at times and there's a little bit more responsibility than any other player in the locker room," he said. "You get a lot of credit when your team has success, but at the same time it's easy to criticize a player who is in the middle of everything and you've got to be ready for that."

Toews is a good fit to lead a locker room full of twenty-somethings, as they take their cues from a focused and businesslike player their own age. For all his maturity, there's been a learning curve in his first season wearing the 'C'.

"I've learned that I'm pretty hard on myself," Toews said. "Sometimes things are easier when you're not putting too much pressure on myself.

"I think my game improved as the season went on and I've learned . . . obviously you've got to take your responsibilities seriously, but sometimes less is more."

He leaves it to others on the team to lighten the tone when needed, even if it is at his expense.

"I'm the guy reminding guys what we need to do and how we need to play out there on the ice," Toews said. "The guys have been working on me to loosen me up. Just giving me heck a little bit off the ice.

"It's a long season so you've got to find a way to just take your mind off hockey sometimes and have a little fun."

Bolland, who was also Toews's teammate on that Canadian junior team that won gold in Vancouver, is among those in charge of getting the captain to crack a smile.

Right now, the weak playoff beards they're trying to generate during their Western Conference quarter-final series against Calgary are a source of mirth.

"Probably right now, it's his sideburns that he's growing," said Bolland, before conceding that he can't muster much facial hair either.

"We've got patches everywhere."

It's on the ice where Toews still doesn't blink. In front of the net and in the corners, the six-foot-two, 209-pound centre is relentless in his pursuit of the puck.

A complete player in just his second season in the NHL, Toews was plus-12 through all 82 regular season games while recording 34 goals and 35 assists.

Trailing the Calgary Flames 2-0 in Game 2 of the series, Toews put the Blackhawks on his back and scored twice in the second period en route to a 3-2 victory.

"I think everyone is trying their best to make a difference and I've definitely felt there's always things in my power that I can do to turn games around when things aren't going our way," he said.

Toews had two goals and three assists, compared to a goal and an assist by Flames counterpart Jarome Iginla, in the first three games of the series. Toews says Iginla is a player from whom he's learned leadership skills.

"You've got to look at a guy like Jarome Iginla and have a lot of respect for a guy like that and what he means to his team," he said. "There's a lot of guys across the league that kind of resemble that as well.

"Watching those guys and playing against them, you can learn a lot from them."


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