CHICAGO — For weeks, fans thought this might be the case since his contract was set to expire at the end of the season.
But when it became official on Thursday morning, it set up an emotional day and evening for a team and fan base at the United Center.
Jonathan Toews was playing his final game as a member of the Blackhawks, which was guaranteed after the team announced that he would not be extended a new contract. That made the regular season finale against the Flyers the final game of his career in Chicago.
The captain was the face of the franchise in good and bad for the past 16 years, helping the team to three Stanley Cup titles and ten playoff appearances. Now he, the team, and the fans had one night to say goodbye and thank you.
It began with the introductions, where Toews received a loud ovation from United Center crowd of 20,219 when his name was read by public address Gene Honda.
Naturally, there were other times when the captain was cheered throughout the night, including the last point of his career.
With 12:20 to go in the second period, Toews redirected a shot by Andreas Athanasiou into the net for his 372nd and final goal of his Blackhawks’ career to get his team within a goal. It was also his 883 point as he received yet another loud ovation from the crowd.
After the Blackhawks tied it to force overtime, Toews nearly finished his career in style when he got a breakaway. But his shot would trickle just a few inches wide of the post as a near-perfect ending just barely got away.
Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov would score the game-winner shortly after to give the Flyers a 5-4 victory.
Immediately the focus turned to Toews as the crowd began to stand and applaud the captain after the conclusion of his final game. He’d go to center ice and then do a circle around the rink as he thanked the fans for their support during his 1,067 regular season and 137 playoff games.
During his interview with Blackhawks team reporter Genna Rose, Toews had this message for the fans.
“Thank you. I love you, Chicago. This is my home and it will always be in my heart. Thank you so much. I love you,” said the captain.
After the interview, teammates along with the crowd encouraged Toews to take one more lap around the United Center ice, which he obliged. He then shook hands with all of his teammates before heading back to the locker room for the final time with the Blackhawks.
“I’m blown away,” said Toews after the game to reporters about the final night. “I really felt that I’m almost unworthy of a moment like that. I was just telling ‘Sharpy’ (Patrick Sharp) that I hope that guys like him and Duncs (Duncan Keith), and Seab(Brent Seabrook). and Kaner (Patrick Kane), go down the list, if they were lucky enough to watch the game tonight that they could feel that love from the fans.”
One more time, the captain tried to impart some advice on a relatively young roster, using his experiences over 16 years and one memorable night to provide perspective.
“I told the guys in the room after the game that goes to show that obviously, it’s more than a game out there when you’re able to be a part of some special years where win Stanley Cups and provide a lot of special feelings to the fans,” said Toews.” Obviously, it’s a two-way street. We gave our heart and soul and poured everything we had into this team and this organization, this game for a lot of years.
“To reap the rewards like that, you can’t draw it up any better.”
Neither could the fans, who got one more chance to celebrate their captain on Thursday night.