Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has been out since Jan. 28 after dealing with symptoms of Long COVID and the Chronic Immune Response Syndrome that forced him to miss the entire 2020-21 season.
On Tuesday, Toews took the next step in his recovery process by joining the team for morning skate. He opened up about what the last month has been like for him, and why he stepped away in January when things came to a head.
"I don't know if it was when we were on the road a lot or leading up to the break and it just got to the point where I couldn't move on the ice and didn't even want to put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink," Toews said. "So it was pretty rough there for a bit, and so I think it probably took me a couple of weeks of just wrestling with, in my own mind, trying to figure out what the right decision was, if I should keep trying to push through it, which really didn't feel like an option anymore ... or kind of pulling the plug and trying to focus my energy on getting better."
It got to the point where Toews considered shutting himself down for the season, which he wrestled with the last few weeks.
"It was kind of a thought in my mind that I made the decision to pull myself out and put myself first to try and take care of my body and do what’s right for myself," Toews said. "That wasn’t an easy decision, obviously, especially given the situation where your team is and how things are going. Everyone’s playing through something, everyone’s battling something, so it’s hard to let your teammates down in that sense.
"For me, the decision was I got to get myself right or the decision to not continue to play is probably going to be made for me. I think it’s an important thing for me to get back to a place where I know physically, mentally, emotionally I’m enjoying the game."
It's also important for Toews to try returning this season because it admittedly could be the last time he puts on a Blackhawks sweater. There are only nine games left so he's running out of runway, but all signs point to him returning at some point.
"Regardless of what happens in the future this summer, it's definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here in Chicago as a Blackhawk," Toews said. "And so that's definitely very important for me to just go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I've been able to be a part of here in Chicago and show my appreciation to the fans as well."
Toews has essentially done it all in his hockey career. He's won a gold medal at the World Juniors and in the Olympics for Team Canada. He's won three Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe. He will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Even though he would love to continue playing and get back to a level he knows he can perform at, Toews is trying to decide whether the mental and physical grind is worth it beyond this season.
"I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important," Toews said. "I know I could, as I've kind of shown these last few years even though I have my own personal standards and not happy with the way I've performed and 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 is just you're just pushing through pain, it's just like, to what end?
"I think 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.
"And so yeah, I'm committed to get back to a place where, like I said, I'm enjoying the game, got energy to not only go out there and play the game at the level I know that I can, but also have the energy left over to enjoy the life and enjoy my time with my teammates, whether it's going to dinners or just little things like that. And just all that stuff has been non-existent, really just go home and lay there and try and recover and get ready for the next day. That's all it's really been. So we'll see how things play out.
"Again, I can't get myself or get ahead of myself because every time I do, that's when I kind of create the expectations you get on a bit of a mental roller coaster. But I've said this quite a bit, I think over the last few years, just trying to stay in the moment and take it day by day, so continue to go forward with that attitude."
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