CHICAGO — The final decision is out of his control, but Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews feels he’s ready to play in Wednesday’s season opener against the Colorado Avalanche.
“I plan to play, but it’s not my decision, but I don’t think that’s up in the air,” he said after morning skate.
The Hawks are set to play their final preseason game against the Minnesota Wild against the United Center. Toews is set to play in that game as well, which will be his fourth preseason appearance.
On Friday, coach Jeremy Colliton was noncommittal about Toews’ availability, saying “I think he’s responded really well. ... We still have some days left before Wednesday and we’ll go from there.”
Toews missed all of last season with Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), where his body responded adversely to any kind of stress, leaving him drained, lethargic and “you kind of feel like you’re in outer space sometimes.” Local experts who spoke to the Chicago Tribune in July said CIRS is “a multi-system, multi-symptom disorder, and it tends to be migratory” within the body.
Toews also has dealt with what he believes are long-hauler symptoms from a bout with COVID-19. He said he tested positive for antibodies.
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He simultaneously announced his return and explained his illness in a June video on social media that showed him walking into Fifth Third Arena for workouts. But it hasn’t been smooth sailing.
Toews admitted he was “dog tired” after the first day of training camp, and he has called the tug-of-war with his health a “day-to-day thing.”
However, he’s been pleased with his progress.
“I just feel like I’ve taken a step almost every day.”
Toews played almost 23 minutes — including the power play and shootout — against the Detroit Red Wings in the preseason opener at the United Center. He played 17 minutes against the St. Louis Blues and another 17 in Detroit. He has played almost every day of camp but was a scratch for Thursday’s game in Minnesota and took maintenance days Oct. 2 and Friday.
When asked if he expected to be able to take on such a workload so soon, Toews said, “Not really.”
“To be honest with you, a week or two away from camp, I was a little worried, a little panicky, but I think I kind of just stayed with that attitude, just take it one day at a time and don’t look too closely at that big picture,” he said Saturday. “Made some pretty good progress with how I’m feeling and how I’m playing out there and just trying to be smart with the puck, and just rely on my instincts and my experience and slowly everything else will come as long as I keep chipping away, so just having fun with the process.
“It’s been challenging, but a lot of guys go through similar things, whether they go through surgeries and long rehabs, and you’ve got to find ways to find your instincts and find your game and you get back to it.”
Colliton said there isn’t a formal load management plan — such as automatically taking off back-to-backs — for Toews during the season.
“It’s more like, we’re going to monitor him day to day,” Colliton said Friday. “He’s one we’re going to be in constant communication with, whether it’s me or the medical staff, training staff, strength guys. Making sure we get his top level.”
Toews agreed Saturday that his situation is more fluid.
”It’s almost good to get thrown into the mix and just have to sink or swim. Sometimes you’ve got to burn the candle at both ends and find a way to respond and recover. ... If there’s days throughout the season where I need some maintenance, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
For now, Toews is focused on that first puck drop that really counts.
“Yeah, it’ll be nice to get into the schedule,” he said. “Everyone’s been working hard in the gym, kind of in that same routine for a while and I think we’re at that point where we’re ready to play some games and just change it up a little bit.”