Jonathan Toews spent four months talking about the lockout, about up-and-down negotiations and about what he was going to do if there was no NHL hockey this season.
So, was it nice for the Blackhawks captain to talk training camp and the upcoming Blackhawks season on Wednesday instead of the L word?
Sure is, said Toews, who along with Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson, returned to Johnnys IceHouse West for informal skates.
Its just more of a relief, Toews continued. There are two sides of it. Theres the excitement just around the fact that we havent played hockey in so long, and were so excited to get back in front of our fans. But its also to be together on a daily basis.
Theyll soon be together plenty. League training camps are expected to begin on Sunday, and the Blackhawks will get a tough test out of the gate when they face the Stanley Cup-champion Kings in Los Angeles on Jan. 19.
For Toews, the frustration and anger for how long it took to get the season going again is still somewhat there. He said both sides need to learn from this lockout, to have a mutual understanding, respect and work hard together for the fans and for the good of the game. But after using the lockout to stay sharp physically and recharge mentally and not to play in Europe -- Toews is looking forward.
Some guys feel like they need to keep playing. For me, I felt it was good for my body and mind to rest and get myself in a place that Ill be in control of what Im able to do on and off the ice for the next handful of years, Toews said. I dont feel burnt out by any means. Im excited to play hockey.
Now the real fun begins: a short training camp followed by a 48-game regular season. As Patrick Sharp said on Tuesday, its whoever can adjust the quickest and get off to a good start. Toews said it could resemble the midway point of the 2010-11 season, when the Cup-defending Blackhawks were fighting for their playoff lives from winter to spring.
The next thing you knew we found ourselves in the playoff hunt with six or eight teams, whatever it was. It felt like a playoff game every single night from beginning of February to the end of the regular season, Toews said. I see some similarities there. Its a race to the finish.
Whatever it is, Toews is ready for it, as are the rest of his teammates. Its been a long time coming. But the focus is on whats coming up, not the dreaded L word that already took away too much of this season.
Im back to that place where I love the game and Im excited to show up to the rink every day. Sometimes to get away from it for a little bit was a good thing, Toews said. So for me, that was a huge thing to try and take my physical abilities to the next level. Now its time to translate that into how I play on the ice.