Last year was a season full of adjustments and unfamiliar territory for former Brandon Wheat King David Toews.
Playing for two different teams in two different leagues, Toews got his education in the professional ranks on the fly, but it didn’t start out that way.
Just prior to the season, Toews was back in familiar waters. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound winger got a chance to suit up alongside his older brother and captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews, in an NHL exhibition game against the Edmonton Oilers.
"It was a lot of fun to get to go to Chicago’s camp and getting to play an exhibition game with my brother was great," Toews said.
Making matters even sweeter was that the exhibition game was held in Saskatoon, giving family and friends from Winnipeg a chance to see the brothers play together for the first time since they were kids.
"It was unbelievable," Toews said about hearing his name called along with his brother’s for the starting lineup. "It’s almost hard to enjoy it because you are so worried about your game and how you’re going to play on the ice. It doesn’t give you a chance to stop and think for a second about the fact you’re playing an exhibition game in the NHL with your bigger brother."
The Oilers won the game 4-2, but for Toews playing with his brother is something he’ll cherish for the rest of his life.
"We had a pretty good shift and had a few scoring chances, so it’s something I’ll never forget," Toews said. "It’s one of the highlights of my career so far and hopefully it’s not the last one."
Although Toews didn’t crack the Blackhawks regular-season lineup, the 22-year-old viewed the training camp as opportunity to gain valuable experience that will help him improve both on and off the ice.
"It was a good experience and there was a lot of adapting all the while trying to get a good grip on the pro game," Toews said.
After leaving Chicago, Toews played two games with the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs to begin the season before finding a home with the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL, where he totalled three goals and 11 assists in 42 games.
"It was a good season to get my feet wet and know what to expect coming into this year," Toews said. "It’s definitely an adjustment. You need to be stronger in the corners and know what you are going to do with the puck before you get it."
Toews, who played two years for the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux before coming to Brandon, credits the time he spent with the Wheat Kings and the rigorous schedule of the Western Hockey League as a big part of his development.
"The schedule and travel that I got used to here (in Brandon) definitely helped going into the pro game," Toews said.
"(The ECHL) is a good league and it’s a chance to prove yourself every time you get on the ice."
Toews, who is helping mentor young skaters from Westman at the Wheat Kings Hockey School this week, is without a contract for the upcoming season.
Although Toews said he wouldn’t rule out going overseas to play, he still feels he has a lot to prove in the North America.
"It’s all about getting an opportunity somewhere," Toews said.
"I’m hoping to find a way to get my foot in the door and move up."
For now however, the chance to get back on the ice at Westman Place and give back to the game on a grassroots level was something he wasn’t willing to pass up.
"It’s fun to see the look in the kids eyes and see the passion for the game and it brings it back to how you were when you were a kid," Toews said. "It puts a smile on your face and hopefully we’re able to do the same for them."