VERDICT: 1,000 Games the Latest Accolade in Toews’ Decorated Career

Jonathan Toews will play his 1,000th game for the Blackhawks Thursday night in Florida. Wayne Gretzky will be there, and the Panthers doubtless shall recognize the occasion. Then Sunday night, Chicago fans will fondly salute their team’s longest-running captain and future Hall of Famer, along with others.

“Yeah, family, friends, buddies are coming down,” Toews was saying. “People who helped me along the way. I think they’ll have a suite at the United Center. When I started out at age 19, I was told it would go fast. It has. It will be a good time for me to pause and appreciate.”

Sunday night’s foe, the Arizona Coyotes, were stationed in Toews’ hometown of Winnipeg when he was just a lad, dreaming large, promising to buy dad a truck when he made it to the National Hockey League (and scored in his first game on his first shot). Hence, Toews’ reference to his support cast “coming down” for the celebration of a remarkable career.

He’s only 33, with a lot to experience when this relatively brief chapter in life as a decorated superstar ends. That 1,000 milestone — besides the roughest games of all, 137 in playoffs, matching shifts against opponents’ very best — surely doesn’t feel like a millstone. Still, Toews wrestles with current events, such as his 999th start, when the Blackhawks literally turned over a four-goal lead into a brutal unscheduled giveaway, not to the crowd, but to the Buffalo Sabres.

“Losing is not fun,” Toews says. “And I’ve been working to gain a lot of perspective this year. The mentality that has gotten me this far, that competitive drive, is almost becoming my worst enemy because there have been so many challenges that I can’t control. It’s a learning curve.

“It’s easy to get down when you’re losing. But it’s still a privileged existence. I get energy from being around all these young guys who are working hard and having a blast while doing it. You travel around first class like a bunch of kids, nice dinners and great hotels, being treated like gold, in this bubble. I’m looking ahead, but not too far. There’s so much to explore and discover when it’s over. It’s a tough balance. You love the game, you hate losing.”

Toews’ nickname, “Captain Serious,” came early and stuck like crazy glue. However, it is folly to attach it entirely to hockey. He anticipates the next faceoff, but also beyond. He’s about society, community and nutrition too. In a brief conversation, he mentioned politics and the crazed way our world is now. Many young men, with summers off and scads of disposable income, go to Pebble Beach. Toews goes to Peru.

“I love to travel, see what’s out there,” he says. “When it’s over, whenever that is, I’m ready to see and do other things. I’ve tried to live a bit outside the bubble as a player, but I’ll really be able to then. My bucket list? I think I’ll always have a connection with hockey, even if I’m not really in it, and then see how much I miss it. There again, I have to appreciate the game and how I can go on to do other things because of it.

“Meanwhile, you try to enjoy what you have now. The other day, right after the deadline, it’s not like I was saying I want to be traded or was asking to be traded. It was just frustration. It was emotional. Losing friends and teammates. Again, things you can’t control. You have to take what comes and it is what it is.”

Video: Driving Chicago with Toews, Pt. 1

If ever there was a concern that Toews’ pilot light flickers in this frustrating season, feel free to revisit a recent game against the Ottawa Senators. Two teams with scant playoff hopes vied for only three minutes until Connor Murphy was drilled into the boards by Parker Kelly. He left with a major and game misconduct; Murphy departed on a stretcher.

The Blackhawks were not happy. “Hard not to be rattled,” offers Toews. “For a second, your focus is taken away from the game.”

But only briefly. Murphy was OK, Toews was Toews. After Zach Sanford roughed up Kirby Dach moments later, Toews zeroed in on the perpetrator. Toews had just missed significant time in concussion protocol — by no means the first health issue for the captain — but he exchanged fists with Sanford. Early in the middle period, Toews scored twice within 101 seconds and the Blackhawks won, 6-3.

“I just kind of reacted,” says Toews. “I wasn’t really thinking about sparking the team or anything like that. We were shocked about Murph. This ‘C’ that I wear, it’s a tremendous honor. Always has been. You probably get more credit when you win because of it, probably more blame when you lose. I don’t think I am a different player with it, and I don’t think I would have been a different player without it, which might be the reason why I got it.”

Video: Driving Chicago with Toews, Pt. 2

Besides the statues of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, there is one of Michael Jordan by the United Center. The Bulls, co-tenants with the Blackhawks there and at the Stadium prior, won six NBA titles with a pair of three-peats during the 1990s. Yet the monopolistic Bulls never toyed with a do-or-die Game 7 in the Finals.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks took a similar path toward three Stanley Cups. In the 2010 Final, they beat the Philadelphia Flyers in six. In 2013, they took out the Boston Bruins in six. In 2015, they downed the Tampa Bay Lightning in six. En route, the wily Blackhawks faced but two Game 7s in 12 preliminary rounds.

One memorable win-or-else encounter occurred during the 2015 Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks. Game 7 on the road represented one of Toews’ finest efforts. It was as though he would not let the Blackhawks lose, and they didn’t. Toews scored in the third minute, then again later in the first period, towards a 5-3 clincher.

Ergo, during separate decades Jordan went 6-0 in NBA Finals and Toews 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Final. But in Game 7s of their respective Finals, Jordan and Toews share the same record. They are both 0-0.

“Pretty cool,” says Toews. “We had a great run here. Those Cups, a lot of sacrifices were made by a lot of guys, but they were all worth it. Wouldn’t change a thing. Talk about having fun. That was fun.”

The captain is a statue waiting to happen.