Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Team Canada's Blackhawk trio

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

Jonathan Toews' mother gave him the news Wednesday morning by "running into my bedroom, jumping up and down, so I knew what was going on."

Duncan Keith may have uttered a curse word when he got the call. "It might have slipped out," he admitted.

And Brent Seabrook?

"I was really nervous this morning," Seabrook said. "When the phone rang, it was a number I didn't know, so I picked it up and I didn't really know what to say. I felt bad."

Brent Seabrook & Duncan Keith
Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith have played together on the same defensive line for most of the past three seasons.

Not for long, of course.

The phone calls to notify the three Blackhawks teammates that they were chosen to be members of the Canadian Olympic hockey team bestowed an honor somewhat elusive to the rest of us. And not just because we're not Canadian.

Even Eddie Olczyk, who received a similar call as a 17-year-old amateur informing him he had been named to the 1984 U.S. Olympic hockey team, acknowledged that it's different for Canadian kids.

"No disrespect to any other sport in any other [country], but that is front and center, at the top to play the No. 1 sport in the No. 1 event in their home country," Olczyk said.

The flip side is that with five Hawks already chosen to represent their countries in February's Vancouver Olympic Games (Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky will play for the Slovakian team) and perhaps two more with Patrick Kane expected to make the U.S. team and Dustin Byfuglien a possibility, this is not necessarily compatible with what their NHL team is currently trying to accomplish.

"I would be worried if sitting in the management or coaching chair," Olczyk said. "You have elite players knocking on wood and probably holding their breath with every shift they take. It's not the perfect situation, especially from a business standpoint, but the league and the players' association agree with it, so you just kind of deal with it and hope everyone comes home safe."

But even as relatively seasoned pros (Toews, 21, the youngster, is in his third season), the Canadian trio was not thinking about playing it safe.

Jonathan Toews
Jonathan Toews debuted with Team Canada at the 2007 World Championships, where he recorded seven points in nine games.

"It's a dream come true," said Seabrook, who gets the added thrill of returning to Vancouver, close to where he grew up. "I'm just really looking forward to it."

Even if it means playing against teammates, and even if it means playing against Kane, whom they have faced before in other international competition.

"Now that we've played together on the same line on the same team for a while now, it's a little bit different," Toews said, "but it will be a big game, especially in Canada, and hopefully we'll get the better of him."

The Blackhawks' success aided Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman's decision, particularly when it came to the pairing of the two defensemen.

"These are the two players that play against the other team's top players every game, game in, game out, and they are not allowing many goals a game," Yzerman said. "When we really thought about it, it was like, this is kind of an easy decision for us in that we've got a good pair; we know they work together, there's chemistry, they're familiar with one another. Let's just go with them. Let's not get cute, let's not overthink this and we'll work around that."

Keith said the pairing worked "right from the get-go."

"He's a big strong guy, smart and always in good position," Keith said. "I think that really helps my game ... I always like playing with someone who shows you support and gives you an out and helps you play your game well."

You got the feeling though, that beyond all of that, these were still three Canadian kids who were going to go home Wednesday night and jump up and down.

"Comparing it to Chicago, where I grew up and where there are gigantic fans of the Cubs and Bears and Blackhawks who ride that emotional roller coaster," Olczyk said, "you can multiply that by the numbers of fans in an entire country because that's how it is for the majority of Canadians and how they feel about hockey."

Keith said he was struck by the company he now keeps.

"When your name is listed there, you realize all the great players who play for Canada," he said. "There are so many great players who didn't make the team, and to be one of the guys ... I am just fortunate to make the team, and I definitely feel honored to be a part of it."

For Toews, the Blackhawks' captain whose mother once told Sports Illustrated, "If I hadn't seen him being born, I would swear he's older," you could almost envision him lacing up the skates at the local pond when he talked about the honor of representing his country.

"We all started out playing hockey somewhere in our hometowns and minor hockey teams," he said. "One day you dream of making the NHL and then after you do that, you think the ultimate accomplishment would be to represent your country of Canada at the Olympic level. For myself personally, it's still tough to believe that they chose me and that I am one of the guys they want to win the gold medal."

Almost makes you want to root for Canada.