There were 407 days that passed between Jonathan Toews‘ last NHL game and his return Wednesday night. The Blackhawks captain spent last season away from the team dealing with an illness but was back on the ice during a 4-3 shootout loss to the Red Wings.
“Obviously, I’ve got my work cut out for me, but it’s coming,” Toews said afterward. “So just happy to be out there. Obviously, the legs are tired. We’ve got pretty good skates in practices, but I feel better than Day One. I think I feel pretty good about my progress and just getting in shape, I guess, pretty much.”
After initially being unaware what was affecting him, Toews revealed in June that he dealt with chronic immune response syndrome, which he explained “my body just couldn’t quite recover and my immune system was reacting to everything that I did — any kind of stress, anything that I would do throughout the day, was always kind of a stress response.”
Toews has practiced with the Blackhawks since the start of training camp and he’s still aiming to be in the opening night lineup Oct. 13 in Colorado. He recorded an assist Wednesday night, won 15 of his 21 faceoffs, and logged 22:48 of ice time, four minutes more than his last NHL game, which was Game 5 of the First Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs against Vegas.
[From June: Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews explains absence]
Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said the plan wasn’t to play Toews that much in his first game back, but circumstances dictated the captain being out there.
“You know, we had the two-minute shift at the beginning of overtime, that wasn’t planned either. And then of course you throw him out there for a couple of face-offs and stuff like that, and we did have a lot of power plays,” said Colliton, who added the team will continue to monitor Toews’ progress.
It’s been a long journey for Toews to get to this point. From sitting out all of last season to nearly leading the team in ice time in his first game back. While his eye remains on Oct. 13, he’s been able to appreciate being around his teammates again and getting back to playing.
“There’s just a lot of little things you take for granted, just becomes so routine and so repetitive after a while,” Toews said. “To be out of that, out of sync and just kind of be so removed from the game, you get to look back and get a new appreciation for it. You look forward to those little things you didn’t realize you missed.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.