Brandon Bollig laughed when thinking of what Jonathan Toews’ potential reception will be like when Toews returns to his hometown of Winnipeg.
“I’m sure he’ll get a much better reception than I get back home,” said Bollig, who’s played in his hometown of St. Louis several times since becoming a pro. “Obviously, he’s a household name.”
In Winnipeg, Toews basically does carry that status, his name gracing a community center and a lake. So there’s little doubt he’ll get a great reception on Saturday afternoon when the Chicago Blackhawks face the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. He couldn’t be entering the game any higher, coming off his fourth career (regular-season and postseason combined) hat trick against Ottawa on Tuesday night.
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It’ll be a thrilling moment for the Blackhawks captain, who grew up watching the Jets and hoped he would be in the NHL someday himself.
“If anyone asks me why I wanted to be a hockey player, that’s how it started was watching the Winnipeg Jets play as a young kid. I never really thought, throughout those years that there was no team in Winnipeg, that I’d get the chance to go back there,” he said. “I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Toews has had this moment before — sort of. The last time he played in Winnipeg was in the 2010-11 preseason against the Tampa Bay Lighting, a season before the Jets (formerly Atlanta Thrashers) returned. In a city sans an NHL team at the time, the arena was filled with fans wearing Toews jerseys. There may not be as many jerseys — Jets fans are passionate about their squad — but the adoration will likely still be there. It was when Toews brought the Stanley Cup home for the second time last summer.
“Maybe I expected it to be different, considering the Jets are back now, but it wasn’t,” Toews said. “This is another of those special moments I’ll try to enjoy. But we’re playing better as a team, and the focus is definitely on continuing our little winning streak right now.”
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Patrick Sharp joked that Toews will likely get a better reception than his fellow Winnipeg-born teammates.
“Duncan Keith, myself and Jonathan were all born in Winnipeg. Somehow, I think Duncs and I will be overshadowed on this one,” Sharp said. “It will be exciting to see how the crowd responds to Johnny coming home. I know he does a lot for that city, and they’re proud of him. But I also know they’re pretty hard on the visiting team’s star player, so it’ll be a fun atmosphere.”
Toews will do his best not to make this homecoming a distraction. His mom is handling the game ticket requests — “thank God, or I’d be going crazy for sure,” he said. The media requests will be there, but Toews has always dealt with those just fine. And as far as keeping the visit from overshadowing the focus on the game, Toews has never struggled to keep the focus where it needs to be.
“A lot of guys have been a part of games that had meaning to it, whether there’s a lot of stuff going on before and after (the games),” Toews said. “When the puck drops, we’ll be focused like it’s just another game. I’ll be ready for that. At the same time, I’ll enjoy it. The first game back in Winnipeg will be a special one for me and I’ll make the best of it.”