Six months and one day after announcing his medical leave of absence, Jonathan Toews broke his silence Wednesday, giving Blackhawks fans news they’ve been longing to hear.
The Hawks captain disclosed he missed the entire 2020-21 Hawks season while dealing with Chronic Immune Response Syndrome (CIRS).
“There’s a lot of things that piled up, where my body just fell apart,” Toews said in a prerecorded interview he tweeted Wednesday. “I just couldn’t quite recover and my immune system was reacting to everything that I did — any kind of stress, anything that I would do throughout the day, there was always that stress response.
“I took some time, and that was the frustrating part — not really knowing when or how we were going to get over the hump. But thankfully [I have] a great support team of people that helped me through it, and [I] learned a lot about the stress I put on my body over the years.”
Toews is back skating with the Blackhawks at Fifth Third Arena this offseason and, while not definitively, indicated he plans to play this coming 2021-22 season.
“I’m excited to get back to the United Center and play and just go out there and have fun,” he said. “My best is going to come through.”
CIRS is relatively little-known condition in which biotoxins like bacteria and mold overgrow in the body and overload the immune system, according to the Virginia Center for Health Wellness. Difficult to identify due to its comprehensiveness, wide-ranging symptoms and lack of publicity, it is primary recognized and treated through alternative medicine.
Toews said on December 30, when announcing his departure, that he had “been experiencing symptoms that have left me feeling drained and lethargic.”
The Hawks and Toews himself were completely mum on his status from then on, with general manager Stan Bowman repeatedly insisting the Hawks weren’t withholding inside information. But wide-ranging rumors about Toews’ condition and frustration about his silence both ran wild among the fan base.
“I appreciate all the support,” Toews said Wednesday. “A lot of people were worried, and I definitely felt bad, to a certain degree, that people were that worried that they thought it was really serious. But in the back of my mind, I knew I’d get through it. It was just a matter of time.
“You talk about the things you appreciate and the things you maybe take for granted, but the No. 1 thing is I’ve had so many people across the hockey world…that have shown their support. The biggest thing is you realize there’s more life than hockey.”
Toews, who turned 33 in April, will provide much-needed experience, leadership and center help for the Hawks next season. Coach Jeremy Colliton did not name a replacement captain during Toews’ absence and relied on a ragtag group of centers — including defense-only David Kampf, converted wings Pius Suter and Philipp Kurashev and last-second signing Carl Soderberg — to fill the void.
But the timing of Toews’ video, just two days after the Hawks announced an investigation into sexual assault cover-up allegations over which they’re currently facing two lawsuits, somewhat overshadows the relief and joy.