Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews returns Saturday vs. Devils after two-month absence

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has returned to the ice.

The NHL veteran played against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night after missing 27 games battling symptoms of long COVID and chronic immune response syndrome.

Toews, 34, missed the 2020-21 season with the immune condition. He reflected on his Blackhawks' tenure and admitted that he wanted to return for the fans and the organization.

"[It’s] important for me to just go out there, enjoy the game, 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 told reporters this week.

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He played 14 minutes in Saturday's 6-3 loss to the Devils and picked up an assist.

“Definitely finding my way a little bit,” Toews told reporters after the game. “I think the first period was rough. That’s a fast team, fast game. But I think the second, third period, I started to feel a bit more comfortable.”

Toews had not played since Jan. 28. In recent weeks, he contemplated sitting out the remainder of the season. Toews said he felt exhausted and sometimes miserable as he tried to play through the immune condition.

He realized that a break was needed in February. The time away afforded an opportunity to reset and regain the strength necessary to play again.

"I’m committed to get back to a place where ... [I have the] 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 life and enjoy my time with my teammates, whether it’s going to dinners or just little things like that," Toews said. "All that stuff has been nonexistent. [I] really just go home, lay there, try to recover and get ready for the next day. That’s all it has really been. So, we’ll see how things play out."

Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews warms up before the game against the New Jersey Devils.
Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews warms up before the game against the New Jersey Devils.

Toews is in his 15th season with the Blackhawks. He won three Stanley Cups and began the 2022-23 campaign with 14 goals and 14 assists in 46 games.

Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson is excited to have Toews back in the lineup. Richardson mentioned Toews’ leadership and veteran presence will help energize the locker room.

"Just having the captain around will be a good lift for the team and I hope for him too," Richardson said on Friday. "He says he feels a lot better. Not perfect but better. We will just go from there."

The Blackhawks have six games remaining this season. Toews, who is on an expiring contract, has not decided whether he will retire or play next year.

"I think either that decision will be clear for me this summer, or it’ll be a situation where I’m really feeling good, really excited, just really ready to train and prepare to get myself to a place where I can play high-level hockey again and just enjoy the game," Toews said.

Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews returns Saturday vs. Devils after absence