CHICAGO – How is it that something so familiar can seem so new? Try stepping away for over a year.
That’s how it is for one of the most recognizable players in the last generation of Blackhawks’ hockey as Jonathan Toews has returned to Fifth Third Arena for the start of training camp over the last week.
“it’s a brand new group in so many ways,” said the captain on Thursday when he had his first practice with ht team since sitting out the 2021 season with an illness. “It’s a fresh start for the other guys, but for me especially.”
This is certainly a welcome start for Toews, who was declared out with an illness late in 2020 then revealed this summer that he was suffering with Chronic Immune Response Syndrome. He watched the entire season from afar, his first away from the Blackhawks since he joined the team full-time in the 2007-2008 campaign.
It will be technically Toews’ 14th season on the ice in the NHL and his 15th with the franchise, which has included an era where the team won three Stanley Cups and made the playoffs ten times. Yet despite this wealth of experience and knowledge, Toews is taking a very simple approach to this training camp as opposed to others in his career.
When asked if he believed he’d be ready for the team’s season opener against the Avalanche on the road on October 13th, Toews was more focused on the workouts ahead.
“Like I told you this summer, I’m just taking it one day at a time, that’s all I can really handle right now,” said Toews. “We kinda got into the whole ‘Goals vs Expectations’ and I had to think about that for a minute. That’s my goal (play on opening night), but I think I just have to keep being patient. There’s things that you can learn as far as how I approach the game when you’re not firing on all cylinders and the conditioning you’re not quite there yet.
“So I’m just chipping away at that and getting back into watching video and thinking the game. That’s my plan, I’d love to, but I’ll focus on tomorrow for now.”
It’s something that Toews will have to hammer home as the workouts continue and his body gets used to full hockey activity for the first time since the Edmonton bubble postseason in August of 2020. For the center, reiterating the “day-to-day” philosophy will become a key mantra as opening night approaches.
“It’s just present and waking up in the morning and seeing what your body’s capable and ready to do,” said Toews. “When you kinda hit walls that come up unexpectedly, it’s hard not to get frustrated again. I think that’s big thing I’ve learned to deal with it is always having that expected result and those expectations in your mind, and when you don’t quite meet them, it’s kinda hard.
“It’s just kinda being present and taking it one day at a time.”
It’s the journey that Toews will be taking over the next few weeks as he prepares for the preseason then 82-regular season games starting in mid-October. It’s a change of perspective not only in preparation but also in appreciation for those day-to-day parts of playing in the NHL that may have become redundant for the four-time All-Star.
“At this point, I don’t take it for granted as much and definitely very thankful just to be out on the ice and be around the guys and just the little things that are so great about our game,” said Toews. “I think you get in touch with that again.”
After all, so much that’s old is new again for the Blackhawks’ captain.