For Corey Crawford, the 2018 Blackhawks Convention is a breath of fresh air.
Time away from the game he loves has worn on the 33-year-old goaltender, so joining with his Chicago Blackhawks teammates under one roof feels like just another step toward a joyous return.
Video: Lear's Look: Crawford vows to return
"I got to go to the games, obviously, but it's still not the same as stepping on the ice, hearing the crowd, just being in the locker room and enjoying the times on the ice with them, after games and all that stuff," he said. "It's hard to be away from (the game), especially when you do something your whole life and you're used to doing something and then you don't do it for a long period of time. It's tough. It is what it is, injuries happen. You just try to get back as quickly as you can."
Having so many familiar faces with him at the Convention has been almost like an additional treatment.
"You need the guys to lean back on," he said. "It can feel kind of lonely at times, being out that long. It's just nice to be back here, seeing everyone again and feeling like I'm back in it."
Crawford's last game of 2017-18 came on Dec. 23. He missed the rest of the season with what is an undisclosed ailment.
"I ask you just to respect that," he said, speaking to the media for the first time in months. "There have been a lot of rumors and people tend to do that speculation. That's normal, but we're not going to discuss any of that. What's important right now is getting better and getting prepared for the start of the season."
And that's what the Blackhawks remain firmly optimistic about - that their Stanley Cup champion goaltender will be ready for training camp and then the regular season.
"That's my assumption," said Blackhawks Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman.
"He's very important, I think you saw that last year. He hasn't gotten probably enough recognition, oddly enough until he missed some time. Now everybody realizes what we've been saying for six years now that this guy is overlooked often times when people are talking about the best goalies in the NHL. For whatever reason, I never understood why, he wasn't in that discussion. I think now with him not being here it seems like he's now getting noticed for how important he is. We're excited, we're hopeful and looking forward to training camp."
Crawford says he has made good progress, especially as of late.
"I'm feeling pretty good right now. I'm not 100 percent yet, but we've come a long way in the last couple of months and I've worked really hard to do whatever I can to get better," he said. "I'm excited to be here right now, see all the guys and get that feeling of being back in it."
"Treatments are going well, we're making small steps and I'm getting a little better. It's a process. It's been a process since I left in December. It hasn't been easy, but… I'll be back."
Crawford wouldn't say how much work he's done either on or off the ice, but the team remains unconcerned with those details at the moment.
"Getting back on the ice is not a big deal right now," said Goaltending Coach Jimmy Waite. "We're still six weeks away from camp. I think if he can get back on the ice a couple of weeks before camp, maybe the first week he's going to be rusty but that comes back real quick. He's working in the gym, off-ice, so he's going to be ready. I'm not worried about it."
Although not 100 percent as things stand today, there's still a chance that when he reports to camp, Crawford will be fully ready to go.
"That's hard to say right now, but it's very possible," Crawford said. "We've come a long way the last couple months and there's a really good chance that could happen."
And when he does come back, Crawford expects to be the player he's always been for the Blackhawks.
"No, I don't doubt that all."