It was a familiar sight that had become unfamiliar in recent weeks.
Jonathan Toews rejoined Chicago Blackhawks teammates for morning skate Tuesday at the United Center, his first time taking the ice since a Jan. 28 game against the Oilers in Edmonton.
“It’s nice,” said Toews, who has missed the last 25 games. “It’s something you take for granted. You definitely realize when you’re out of the routine and away from the locker room, not going on the road with the boys, all that stuff, and you’re just kind of on your own slugging through every day, so that part of it’s not easy.
“So it’s definitely nice to be back and be on the ice with the guys.”
He announced through a team statement on Feb. 19 that he would be stepping away because of challenges with Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”
On Tuesday, Toews took a mostly reflective tone during a nearly 14-minute news conference and strongly hinted that because of his health issues, these could be the 34-year-old’s final days in a Hawks jersey — or any NHL jersey.
“Both (possibilities), if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.
“I feel like I have much more to give with my experience in the game and knowing how to play the game, but when day after day you’re just pushing through pain, it’s just like, to what end?
“When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”
Toews said it’s not just about having enough energy for the game, but for life.
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“All that stuff has been nonexistent, really just go home and lay there and try and recover and get ready for the next day,” he said. “That’s all it’s really been.”
Toews stopped short of saying definitively that he would retire after the Hawks’ last nine games, culminating with the season finale at home against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 13.
“We’ll see how things play out,” he said. “I can’t get myself or get ahead of myself because every time I do, that’s when I create the expectations (and) you get on a bit of a mental roller coaster.
“I’ve said this quite a bit over the last few years, just trying to stay in the moment and take it day by day.”
The Hawks host the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night, and Toews isn’t likely to join the lineup. The team doesn’t have a timeline for his return.
Coach Luke Richardson said, “It’s having some communication with him, how he’s feeling, when he’s ready, keeping communication with the medical staff to make sure it’s also a good idea for him to do that and that’s it. We’re just going to go day-by-day here.
Depending on how Toews responds physically, the Hawks “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game,” Richardson addd.