Jonathan Toews returns to the ice on Day 1 of Blackhawks training camp ‘feeling a lot better’ — and says he had COVID-19 in addition to a stress condition

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CHICAGO — Jonathan Toews skated with teammates during a conditioning drill as the Chicago Blackhawks opened training camp Thursday at Fifth Third Arena.

White it’s a common drill, it represented the latest step in Toews’ long recovery from what he was told is “chronic immune response syndrome,” which has him feeling drained and lethargic as his body responds to stress.

The longtime Hawks captain missed all of last season while dealing with the condition.

“Just to see him out there and seeing how good of a player he is when he misses time is so impressive,” defenseman Connor Murphy said. “I know I wouldn’t be able to keep up with any practice missing that much (time).

“He’s just a competitor and a warrior and such an athlete that he’s able to bounce back and look as good as he’s ever can when he’s needed.”

Toews also confirmed he had COVID-19, though he didn’t specify when he believed he had it.

“I was pretty sure,” the center said, adding later that while he wasn’t tested for COVID-19, he did test positive for antibodies.

When answering a question about when he was diagnosed with CIRS, Toews explained: “How do you put your finger on one thing? To me, it’s never that simple. ...

“My health hit a wall, and a lot of things add up to that. The whole process was how do you take a look at what went wrong, how do you find some balance in there and still do the thing that you love to do, the thing you were born to do and just do it from a healthier approach and a healthier perspective.”

Toews, 33, spent the 56-game season on long-term injured reserve, his most significant time sidelined by an injury since missing the final 22 games of 2011-12 with a concussion.

“It takes a toll on you in a lot of ways — mentally, physically, emotionally — all those things,” he said of the absence. “It was just a lot of things that added up, hit a wall and it was good for me to check out and try and pick the pieces back up and come back to the game with a new approach and a new appreciation for it.”

Toews admitted to being exhausted after going through the first drills of camp Thursday, but it marked progress.

“As dog tired as I was out there today, it’s a good feeling,” he said. “Instead of, ‘OK, I’m in trouble. I’m going to go up on the couch for two (or) three days doing nothing after that.’ So to me that’s progress. ...

“The response and the recovery, just feeling a lot better.”

Toews said he hopes to be ready to play opening night, but he’s taking his comeback day by day.

“That’s my goal, but I think I just have to keep being patient,” he said. “There’s things you can learn as far as how to approach the game when you’re not firing on all cylinders.”

Toews acknowledged his conditioning hasn’t fully returned, “so I’m just chipping away at that.”

Coach Jeremy Colliton said Toews is doing everything to prepare.

“Obviously to take a year off is tough, and we just have to let it play out,” Colliton said. “I definitely will not be in the daily handicapping of the percentage of, is he ready or not and what’s his role going to be.

“Let’s just give him the space to keep working at it.”

Patrick Kane, who’s going into a 14th year with Toews (though they never played together in 2020-21), said Toews’ presence in the locker room and on the ice was missed.

“I always found when he played well, I played well too,” he said. “Just gives us a nice 1-2 punch and gives the other team something to think about a little bit.”

Kane said Toews looked good during camp’s first practice.

“The biggest thing is you want him to be himself, right?” Kane said. “He’s such a big part of this organization and part of this team for such a long team. After a year off, you’re coming into a new team — like I even feel like it’s a brand new team, a lot of different faces. Just have him be himself, keep building himself every day.”

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