CHICAGO – History records with great accuracy all the championships won and records set by the championship teams of yore, each accomplishment readily available in the National Hockey League’s Guide and Record Book. At your finger tips, with no need or room for characterization.
But when it comes to leadership, and the forces that truly enabled all that winning, it gets a little more anecdotal. We know of all the captains and the speech makers, but over time, the support group can fade.
Until a day like Thursday, when we are reminded that behind every Bob Gainey there was a Guy Lapointe; for every Steve Yzerman there was a Kris Draper or a Vladimir Konstantinov.
They say it takes a village to raise a child? Well, it takes a locker room to raise a Stanley Cup banner.
Sometimes, even the guy wearing the ‘C’ needs a little direction.
“To be completely honest,” began Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook, in a candid answer to a question posed by Post media’s Cam Cole, “I was sick and tired of hearing everybody talk about everything that Johnny (Toews) is doing right.”
In the old Islanders dressing room, Denis Potvin had Butch Goring, Ken Morrow and Dave Langevin. In this Blackhawks room, Seabrook saw a young captain in Toews who had perhaps become so caught up in being “The Complete Player” that he’d forgotten how important his offence was to the group.
So Seabrook seized the moment.
“I just told him that he’s got to stop thinking about … everything that he’s doing right and stop worrying about not scoring goals,” Seabrook said. “I mean, he’s got to score goals for us. He’s a big part of our team. When he’s going, we have a chance to win, as well as Kane and Sharp and Hossa and Bickell…
“It wasn’t about the little things that he does. It wasn’t about his leadership that he brings. I just thought that maybe he needed to start thinking about scoring goals.”
It was the kind of thing that very few of those old Edmonton Oilers could have said to Mark Messier. But Kevin Lowe could have.
“Let’s set it straight here,” said Toews, as reporters — actually detecting a morsel of an angle from one of these excruciating podium events the Blackhawks limit us to — drilled down for more gold from the Hawks’ peach-fuzzed, 25-year-old captain.
“It was not a joke, but he’d be sitting in the lounge or at the hotel, and he just looked at me. And I answered it wrong one time, because he asked me, ‘What are you thinking about?’
“And I was like, ‘Nothing. What are you thinking about?’
“And he looked at me again, and I realized what he wanted me to say. I snapped back, and said, ‘Scoring goals.’
“There you go. That was all it was.”
It was the kind of conversation New Jersey captain Scott Stevens might have had with a Randy McKay, or a Ken Daneyko. Or perhaps a Scott Niedermayer, leaning on Teemu Selanne in Anaheim back in ’07.
Seabrook asked the question knowing perfectly well what the answer was supposed to be. He was putting his captain back on point. Letting him know why he got the damned “C” in the first place — because Jonathan Toews is known as one of the clutch producers of his generation.
But even a Cup winner and Olympic champion can struggle, and despite a goal in Game 4 Toews has just two goals this entire post-season. You’ll recall the spate of penalties he took in that game against Detroit in Round 2, and how Seabrook skated across to the penalty bench, opened the door, reached in and put his hand on Toews’ helmet, dispensing some words of encouragement.
It was something we’d never quite seen before, and obviously, a precursor to this latest pep talk by Seabrook, who is Toews’ senior at 28.
“You know, you play hard,” Toews said. “You try and do the little things right, but at a certain point it’s not enough. You’re considered an offensive player — a key player on your team. You’ve got to find a way to do something.
“He wasn’t trying to get on me. Just trying to spark me a little bit. I don’t know if it’s something that goes with the relationship and the friendship we’ve had over the years, rooming with him my rookie year here in Chicago. But he’s always kind of looked after me that way.
“He cares about his teammates and he wants guys to have success. And just as much or more than anybody, he wants to win this thing. He did what he had to do.”
You can’t win without players like Toews. You won’t win without players like Seabrook.
Those are both hockey facts you won’t find in the NHL Guide and Record Book.