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Jonathan Toews returns to Blackhawks, announces Chronic Immune Response Syndrome diagnosis

Toews indicated he plans to play in 2021-22 after missing all of 2020-21.

Jonathan Toews discussed his absence for the 2020-21 season Wednesday.
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Six months and a day after announcing his medical leave of absence, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews broke his silence Wednesday, giving fans news they’ve been longing to hear.

Toews disclosed he missed the entire 2020-21 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’ve got 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 feeling better and is back skating with the Hawks at Fifth Third Arena this offseason. He indicated, albeit not definitively, that he hopes to play in the 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 a little-known condition in which biotoxins, such as bacteria and mold, grow in the body and overload the immune system, according to the Virginia Center for Health Wellness.

Difficult to identify because of its obscurity, comprehensiveness and wide-ranging symptoms, it primary is recognized and treated through alternative medicine.

Toews told The Athletic on Wednesday he thinks a possible bout with COVID-19 in February 2020 also might have contributed to his health issues, which began flaring up in summer 2020 and affected him during the Hawks’ brief playoff run.

By late December, Toews acknowledged ‘‘symptoms that have left me feeling drained and lethargic’’ while announcing his leave from the team.

The Hawks and Toews were mum on his status from then on, with general manager Stan Bowman repeatedly insisting the team wasn’t withholding inside information. But wide-ranging rumors about Toews’ condition and frustration about his silence 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 to life than hockey.’’

The timing of Toews’ video, which came two days after the Hawks announced an investigation into sexual-assault allegations over which they’re facing two lawsuits, somewhat overshadowed the relief and joy.

But Toews, who turned 33 in April, nonetheless will provide much-needed experience, leadership and center help for the Hawks next season.

Coach Jeremy Colliton didn’t 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, last-second signee Carl Soderberg and struggling Dylan Strome — to fill the void. Dominik Kubalik, who thrived on Toews’ wing as a rookie, was significantly affected by his absence.

Even with Toews now penciled in, the forward lineup for next season looks cloudy because of the abundant offseason movement ahead.

Vinnie Hinostroza is a pending unrestricted free agent. Kampf, Suter, Brandon Hagel, Alex Nylander and Adam Gaudette are pending restricted free agents. The Hawks will lose one player in the expansion draft and potentially add new ones via trades or free agency. And top prospects Lukas Reichel and Henrik Borgstrom are coming to North America.