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Blackhawk back home

Toews has great time at charity game in return to Winnipeg

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The venue was smaller, the intensity level virtually nil and the stakes nonexistent.

So, no, this isn't the homecoming Jonathan Toews had in mind when the NHL made its triumphant return to Winnipeg a year-and-a-half ago.

In a perfect, non-lockout world, Toews and his Chicago Blackhawks -- who did not pay a visit in Year 1 of the Jets' rebirth -- would have stepped onto the ice in front of another raucous, sold-out crowd at the MTS Centre for the second game of the 2012-13 NHL season back on Oct. 16.

Instead, the Blackhawks' captain was darting around the ice in front of a capacity crowd of about 1,700 at Max Bell Centre at the University of Manitoba and sporting a blue NHL Players' Association jersey in the "Goals For Dreams" charity game that featured 17 NHLers and members of the Winnipeg Police Patrolmen Hockey Club.

But the silver lining is this: The event helped raise $80,000 for The Dream Factory and The Children's Hospital Foundation of Manitoba.

"It was great," said Toews. "You saw the fans... they're excited and they want to watch hockey and have their Jets back. Everyone knows it was an exciting year for the Jets to be back in Winnipeg last year. I was excited to get my chance to come back here and play in October. That didn't happen, unfortunately. But this is a pretty good substitute for the time being.

"I was just talking to the guys... It feels good to be able to play in front of the fans again. It was a great opportunity to do it. I'm definitely happy we came out."

As the Goals for Dreams was unfolding word was breaking about the NHL and the NHLPA getting together for another meeting Monday in New York. But those sort of news flashes, now that the lockout is now into its third month, are in one ear and out the other for many -- including the players.

"Even when there's been progress we always tell ourselves not to get overly optimistic," said Toews. "It's been a thing the league likes to do, they almost toy with the emotions of the players and the fans, especially when they say there's progress and they might be getting close (to a deal). Everyone gets excited thinking there might be a deal made and the next thing you know the rug gets pulled out from underneath our feet pretty quick.

"I think fans are starting to understand that and are maybe getting as frustrated as the players are with that type of thing. We know not to take it too seriously until things are done."

Toews has been one of the more outspoken players during this process and his frustration was obvious again Saturday afternoon. Instead of talking about a Hawks' win streak or dissecting problems on the power play, he's talking about hockey-related revenue and splitting up what was once a $3.3-billion pie. And if it's old reading and hearing about it, it's even older living it.

"It feels really unnecessary for so many reasons," said Toews. "You go to the meetings, you're on the phone calls, you do everything you can and there's a lot of principles. At the end of the day we feel that we have that advantage in that you can make arguments that always end up in our favour, but it doesn't really matter in the eyes of fans. They want to see hockey.

"We knew coming into it that we'd have to be patient. We're getting to that point where it's tough but, as players, we're staying strong and we're doing what we have to do."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 18, 2012 B3

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