Blackhawks' Brent Seabrook keeps buddy Jonathan Toews stuck in, focused on Cup goal(s)
Jonathan Toews (left) and Brent Seabrook have been teammates and friends on the Chicago Blackhawks since 2007-08, when Toews broke into the NHL as the Hawks’ first-round draft choice (third overall) from the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Seabrook was also a Hawks first-rounder, going 14th overall in the 2003 draft.
Photograph by: Debora Robinson, NHLI via Getty Images files
CHICAGO — A couple of times now, in these Stanley Cup playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks’ leader has needed to be led, gently but firmly, away from the white noise around him, or inside his head.
Jonathan Toews, ever the steady, monotoned, unfailingly positive voice and captain of the 2010 Cup champs, has allowed himself to come unglued emotionally during Game 4 of the Detroit series, and to fall back on the sweet sounds of teammates and coaches pumping his tires for his many wonderful qualities, even as he was mired in a murderous scoring slump.
Both times, the cattle prod has come from Brent Seabrook.
Buddies, roommates during Toews’ rookie season, Olympic teammates, brothers in arms for all of the young captain’s six National Hockey League campaigns, here was the conversation that passed between them in the lounge of the team’s hotel in Boston prior to Game 4.
“He just asked me, ‘What are you thinking about?’ ” Toews said Thursday. “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, and I snapped back and said, ‘Scoring goals.’ There you go. That was all it was.”
Can’t you just picture it? Seabrook’s hard stare from the midst of that heavily-bearded mug, Toews finally getting it. Two friends, one in need.
“He's been trying to help me out, make me think a little bit better,” Toews said.
Seabrook’s motivation, though, when he explained it to the media back at United Center on Thursday, was so startlingly honest, eyebrows shot up all over the room. You don’t usually get candour so deep in a Stanley Cup run.
“To be completely honest, I was sick and tired of hearing everybody talk about everything that Johnny is doing right,” Seabrook said.
Meaning all the things coach Joel Quenneville always mentions about his leadership, responsibility, work ethic, character. Not good enough, Seabrook thought.
“He's a great player. He's one of the best in the league, and I just told him that he's got to stop thinking about that, too,” said the rugged 28-year-old defenceman from Tsawwassen. “He's got to stop thinking about everything that he's doing right. I mean, he's got to score goals for us. He's a big part of our team.
“I knew he was going to be playing great. It wasn't about the little things that he does. It wasn't about the leadership that he brings. I just thought that maybe he needed to start thinking about scoring goals.”
Toews, who got the second Hawks goal of their 6-5 overtime Game 4 thriller — Seabrook scored the overtime winner — knew his friend was right.
“Yeah, I definitely did,” he said. “You know, you play hard, you try and do the little things right, but at a certain point it's not enough. You're considered an offensive player, key player on your team, you've got to find a way to do something.
“He wasn't trying to get on me, I don't think; he was definitely 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 ... but he's always kind of looked after me that way.
“It's good. 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.”
It wasn’t the first time.
During the Detroit series, with the Blackhawks about to fall behind 3-1 in games, Toews was victimized by a bad high sticking call, one of three penalties he took in under six minutes, and Seabrook did the unheard-of: skated over to the open door of the penalty box, stepped in, and leaned close to talk to Toews, who was losing it.
“I just tried to calm him down,” Seabrook said the next day. “We need him, he’s the best player on the team, and our leader. And you know, if the rest of the group sees him like that it’s going to trickle down. I just told him to sit down and take a couple of deep breaths and be ready to be back out there.”
What was most impressive about it was that, at the time, Seabrook was in a slump of his own, enduring reduced ice time, playing on the No. 3 pairing. But he knew what had to be said.
“Seabs, since I've been here, is one of the guys that doesn't wear a letter but he's definitely a big part of our leadership group,” said Quenneville. “Even at a young age, going back five years, he was probably the one voice that you heard a lot in the locker room and probably the most on the bench or even practice or game time or preparing between periods.
“He always says the right things, and he's a great teammate, a great competitor, and I think he got excited about getting back playing with Duncan and getting more ice time, and I think his game responded accordingly.”
Seabrook has these hidden depths, and always has had. When he was named to the 2010 Olympic team, some saw him as a mere adjunct to his defence partner, Duncan Keith, but he has exhibited through eight NHL seasons the qualities every coach prizes in a top-pairing D-man.
He’s a big body with a mean streak, and he owns a hard, heavy shot — hard enough to have decided two overtimes already this spring, including the Game 7 elimination of the Red Wings.
Maybe there’s a little karma at work here, from his good deeds with Toews, who felt the weight of the world come off his back when he scored Wednesday.
“Finally!” he said. “Just wanted a lucky one, and that was it. I know it doesn't make much sense when you say that a puck going off your stick from the point, and you seeing it go in, can liberate you as a player and help you play the rest of the game with less pressure instead of trying to force every single little thing — but it does.”
So what are you thinking about now, Jonathan?
“You know, it's not the time to just dwell on that one goal. I have to use that confidence and go find a way to score more.”
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