Wednesday was just like old times for Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.
The crowd at the United Center roared for his name in the starting lineup. He won the opening faceoff. He played 22 minutes, 48 seconds — the most among Hawks forwards. And he scored a shootout goal, even though it wasn’t enough to save the Hawks from a 4-3 loss to the Red Wings in their preseason opener.
Toews, who sat out all last season with a health issue, had participated fully in the Hawks’ first five days of training camp. But a complete preseason game — and sizable minutes in it — represented another impressive step forward in his path back to 100% fitness.
‘‘It felt great,’’ he said. ‘‘I was really happy to be back in the room, out on the ice. . . . I can’t say I expected [to play that much]. But even though it doesn’t look pretty yet, everyone is going through the motions, trying to find their groove a little bit, find our team game.
‘‘That’s the whole point of these games, to try to settle in a little bit.’’
While most of the Hawks’ stars — including wings Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat — sat out the game and might not play much until the regular-season opener Oct. 13, this preseason is critical for Toews, and he likely will see the ice plenty during it.
‘‘It’s just been great to have him back, first of all,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘He has worked extremely hard to get himself ready. That process is ongoing, but he means a lot, just his presence to the team and leadership in the room. And he’s a pretty good player, too, so we want to get him back to as high a level as we can. But we’re going to be patient.’’
So far, that patience is paying off. Toews said the first week of camp hasn’t tired him out. Instead, it has helped him continue to improve.
He won 15 of 21 faceoffs Wednesday and recorded one assist, three shots on goal and two takeaways.
‘‘Obviously, the legs are tired,’’ Toews said. ‘‘We’ve had pretty good skates and practices. But I feel better than Day 1. I feel pretty good about my progress and just getting in shape.’’
Lukas Reichel’s appearance was also special. He donned a red Hawks sweater and played in the United Center for the first time, calling it a ‘‘dream come true.’’
The 19-year-old German rookie skated on the third line with fellow youngsters Henrik Borgstrom and Alex Nylander.
Although his switch to the smaller North American ice surface has been abrupt, Reichel’s creativity, puckhandling and adeptness in tight spaces has helped him adjust quickly. He has realized, with the smaller rink dimensions, that he always has to ‘‘know what’s coming next’’ — and his hockey IQ allows him to do so.
‘‘He just keeps getting better,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘If at some point there’s a plateau, that’ll be totally normal and we’ll help him through it. But he’s definitely had some real good moments so far in camp.’’
Entwistle keeps grinding
Wing Brandon Hagel was asked Monday who will be the Hawks’ 2021-22 breakout star, like he was last season. His answer was wing MacKenzie Entwistle.
‘‘I know his work ethic and what he does,’’ Hagel said. ‘‘He really wants to get to that next level, and he has the ability to do so.’’
Entwistle, 22, has been impressive in camp, with Colliton raving about how he has taken a ‘‘huge step forward year-to-year’’ with his skating, in particular.