No setbacks for Toews, Game 1 status still uncertain

by Brian Hedger /
CHICAGO -- His status is status quo, which is good news for Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.

Toews, who missed the final 22 games of the regular season after sustaining a concussion, practiced for the second straight day as the center of the top line in Chicago's final home practice before flying to Arizona to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday against the Phoenix Coyotes.

"Same as [Monday]," Toews said, when asked how he was feeling following Tusday's practice at Johnny's Ice House West, near United Center. "[I'm] just waiting until gametime time on Thursday. I feel good. I’ve been making improvements and working on little things every single day, so that’s going to be the routine for the next little while."

Neither Toews nor the Blackhawks have officially said the 24-year-old star will play in Game 1 on Thursday night at Arena, but the feeling around the team since Monday is that he will.

"Compared with a couple of weeks ago, it’s night and day," Toews said of the symptoms he's dealt with since leaving the lineup. "[I've] made huge progress and if I didn’t I wouldn’t be sitting here talking. It’s been going good the past week. [I'm] just taking as good a care of myself as I can. It’s great when you see a difference every single day. Finally, those things I’m doing are paying off and I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I guess."

Toews did say he's still experiencing some dizziness on the ice, but attributed it more to physical conditioning than the concussion. He also said it's tough to weigh his long-term health -- especially after he's done playing hockey -- with the present situation.

"As a young hockey player, you have a certain level of invincibility," said Toews, who's had at least one prior concussion in his NHL career. "You don't really think that far down the road. You're thinking about
the here and now, getting back in the room and on the ice to be part of the mix and help your teammates."

Toews cited the uncertainty of how, exactly, concussion-related injuries and symptoms affect the brain in the long run as one of the issues he's been mulling over the past few weeks.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Toews has cleared every protocol that's been put in place for a player to return from such an injury and that it's now up to Toews to make the call as to when he's healthy enough to play.

"I think those hurdles will be crossed before he even begins," Quenneville said. "I think he's made some real consistent progress recently and that's where we're comfortable with where he's at. Each and every day, he feels even better and that gives him reassurance and us confidence that when he's ready, he will be ready to play. We're hopeful and looking forward to that."

It's not an easy decision to make, but the more Toews talks about it, the more it sounds like he'll be in uniform Thursday night against the Coyotes.

"It's tough to see where this is an injury that maybe does have long-term effects ... who really knows?" Toews said. "But you've got to be careful and do what you think is right. It's tough to see where ... it's a case that's debatable. You could talk about it all day, but no one really knows if things like that happen because of an injury like this. Every case is different and no one can tell you what to do. You've got to be smart about it and do what you think is right."

Meanwhile, his teammates say that getting their captain back will be a welcome sight whenever it happens.

Toews said he's not going do too much whenever he gets back into the lineup, anticipating some rust in his game after the long layoff, but at least one of his teammates is leery of setting the bar too low.

"I don't expect that," Hawks star forward Patrick Sharp said. "I've been out for long stretches and come back. Now's the time when I felt a little nervous, leading up to the game ... but Johnny's played in a number of big games in his career already. I anticipate him to come back and pick up where he left off."