WINNIPEG -- Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews makes his hometown return when his team plays the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre on Saturday.
Toews met with the Winnipeg media Saturday morning before the Blackhawks-Jets matinee that will be his first NHL regular-season game in his hometown since the NHL returned to Winnipeg in 2011.
Toews played college hockey at the University of North Dakota, a short drive from Winnipeg, and played a 2010 preseason game here with the Blackhawks, but opportunities for him to play close to home have been limited.
"It will be an emotional game," Toews said. "It's kind of weird being back here during the season."
Winnipeg this season was moved to the Western Conference, where Chicago has long played.
Toews spent time with his family after the Blackhawks arrived Friday afternoon. A large contigent of family and friends will be at MTS Centre for the game, though Toews admitted he did not have a firm number.
"It brings it all back," Toews said of playing at MTS Centre, a 15-minute drive from where he spent his childhood. "Just to be back here and think about where I grew up and all of the rinks that I grew up playing hockey at. Now that there is an NHL team back here, to be playing at this level is a pretty special thing."
The Blackhawks and Jets are Central Division members now after NHL realignment, and a visit from the defending Stanley Cup champion has made the game one of the hottest tickets in town this season.
"We're expecting the atmosphere to be great," Toews said.
Along with that MTS Centre atmosphere, Jets fans have developed a reputation around the League for directing their energies at opposing star players who skate on Winnipeg ice. Toews is hopeful his hometown roots will shield him from some of the crowd’s attention.
"Hopefully it's at least a mixed bag, at worst," Toews said. "We'll see."