Jonathan Toews (left) and Marian Hossa have a chat during a break in practice on Wednesday. | Ross D. Franklin~AP
Updated: May 13, 2012 10:34AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s been a long, arduous recovery from a concussion for Jonathan Toews. There was a setback, targeted games missed, moments of frustration and melancholy and even some doubts whether he would return at all this season.
Now, it might finally be over. And, the timing is impeccable.
Officially, Toews will decide Thursday if he plays in Game 1 of the Blackhawks’ best-of-seven first-round series against the Phoenix Coyotes. But he said Wednesday at Jobing.com Arena that he didn’t feel any symptoms during practice and that he would be surprised if he didn’t play.
“I’m right there,” Toews said. “It’s just been another day where I just feel like I’m getting better and better and getting back to where I want to be as far as when I’m going to play a game.”
It’s hard to quantify Toews’ value. He’s part of a deep team filled with stars, and they managed to succeed without him, going 13-5-4.
“We didn’t skip a beat,” said Toews, who last played on Feb. 19. “No one sat around and made excuses.”
But saying Toews wasn’t missed is like saying a Chicago-style hot dog is better without mustard. He’s too crucial an ingredient.
The Hawks might be able to squeak by the Coyotes in the first round without Toews. But the goal is the Stanley Cup, and they need him to seriously contend, much as the Pittsburgh Penguins, despite all their success, need Sidney Crosby.
“I’ve never gone through something like this where I’ve waited for so long not knowing when it’s going to be” Toews said. “If it’s [Thursday], I feel ready to play. Mentally, I know I’m not going to be as good as I was in the last game that I did play, but again, it’s all about simplifying things out there and going out there and playing hard.”
It’s a good sign that Toews talked like he was playing. And it was even better that his symptoms, which had recently only shown up on the ice, didn’t appear as well.
There are no reasons to think that Toews was lying, either. The 23-year-old has been forthright and honest about his situation. It’s an approach players often choose not to take, and Toews should be commended for it.
It’s also unfair to fault Toews for initially trying to play through his symptoms, which undoubtedly delayed his return. Concussions are strange injuries, in which sometimes the slightest symptoms are indicators.
When you feel dizzy, sore or lethargic, do you automatically think concussion? Probably not.
Plus, this is hockey, a sport in which the toothless are heroes and playing through injuries is glorified.
Since coming to grips with his concussion, Toews has taken a cautious approach with the biggest hurdle being himself. He had to be honest about every ache and pain and every tired or fuzzy feeling.
Years ago, Toews probably would have played through it all. But this is the concussion era of the NHL. More is simply known. Hence, all the long recoveries.
The Coyotes will surely go after Toews and so will other teams if the Hawks advance. Toews expects it.
“For any guy that is coming back from any sort of injury, you don’t want to let him feel comfortable out there,” Toews said. “I’m expecting it’s going to be even tougher than usual, and that’s the way it is. So I’ll just go out there and play gritty and a smart game and try to keep things simple and make things happen out there.”
It’s difficult to predict how much Toews will make happen in his first game back, although centering Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa might help.
The hope is for something similar to Dave Bolland’s dramatic return last postseason against the Vancouver Canucks after he missed 17 games with a concussion. Bolland nearly set Vancouver ablaze himself.
“It was just energy saved up that all built from waiting around,” Bolland said. “When you see one guy going, it’s just a domino effect. You see everybody going.
“Tazer is an elite player in this league who is up there with Crosby and those guys. He can step in one game and put up some big points.”