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Patrick Kane: Scratching the surface

Entering his fifth year in the league, Kane’s career resume already includes gaudy statistics, a Calder Trophy and a Stanley Cup. But he says he’s only just begun.

Tuesday, 11.22.2011 / 1:00 AM / Features
By Bob Verdi  - Blackhawks Team Historian
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Patrick Kane: Scratching the surface

The following feature appeared in October's edition of Blackhawks Magazine. The November edition is currently available at all Blackhawks home games, and all of this season's issues are available at the Blackhawks Store at 333 N. MIchigan Ave or by calling (800) GO-HAWKS.

Is there a statue in Patrick Kane’s future? The possibility was broached recently when Jim Koehler, general manager of the United Center, showed the Blackhawks star where monuments for Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita would be situated. Koehler then wondered aloud about Kane’s preferred location when the time comes.

“WHOA!” exclaimed No. 88, bringing the conversation to a screeching halt and rerouting it from the third rail. “I just want to become better right now. You only have one shot at the National Hockey League. You only have one life. I don’t want to get to the point when I retire where I look back and say to myself, ‘I wish I had done this,’ or ‘I wish I had done that.’ I’m not exactly sure what everybody else’s expectations are for me, but I know what mine are: I want to become an elite player.”

If it’s a stretch at this juncture to look ahead and bronze Kane, it’s proper to digest current events and appreciate him. At 22, he enters his fifth NHL season with a resume that portends greatness. The winning puck remains at large, but he did bury it in Philadelphia on June 9, 2010, to clinch a Stanley Cup. In the pantheon of Chicago sports, Kane beat Michael Jordan and Walter Payton to championship ring-fittings by several years while Ernie Banks, who never curbed his enthusiasm, regrettably will be forever on the outside looking in on a parade.

PLAYERS CLUB



Through four seasons in the NHL, Patrick Kane already ranks among the franchise's best.

D. SAVARD - 409 POINTS (309 GP)

P. KANE - 303 POINTS (317 GP)
J. ROENICK - 281 POINTS (257 GP)
J. TOEWS - 267 POINTS (302 GP)

For pure numbers, a category that does not overly impress Kane, he has registered more goals, 103, in his first four winters with the Blackhawks than did either Hull (101) or Mikita (83). Denis Savard amassed 132, and before he became Kane’s first NHL coach, the flying Frenchman was credited by former team owner Bill Wirtz with helping “save” the franchise — not unlike the resurrection Hull and Mikita energized during the 1960s after a decade so desultory that there was discussion about moving the Blackhawks to another city. If you believe in symmetry, recall the arrivals of Kane and Jonathan Toews. Chicago wasn’t about to lose hockey, but hockey had just about lost Chicago.

“I remember sitting in the stands my rookie year in 2007 for an exhibition game,” Kane says. “They announced 7,000, but the crowd was more like 4,000. Now, we not only sell out every night, but the building is full for our first practice in training camp. Pretty amazing. Our fans are great. If there are no fans, there are no games. They deserve a good product, a good team. I can’t imagine ever wanting to play anywhere else.”

As a youngster in Buffalo, N.Y., Kane dreamed of playing for the Sabres. At the beginning of his draft year, however, he did not foresee being the chosen one at the 2007 Entry Draft. As a member of the London Knights, he thought he might be a third rounder. But over dinner that winter with teammate Sam Gagner (now with the Edmonton Oilers) and his father Dave, the 17-year NHL veteran indicated to Kane that his stock was measurably higher. The Blackhawks won only 31 times during the 2006-07 campaign, but their ultimate victory was in the Draft Lottery for the right to select No. 1 overall. You think they were lucky? Kane shares the sentiment.

“I was overwhelmed at first by Chicago,” he says. “The traffic. How does anybody drive in this? But my rookie year, I lived with (then-Assistant GM) Stan Bowman. I knew him a little bit from Buffalo, and being with his wife and children was great. Sue did the cooking. I didn’t have to do much except play hockey. Didn’t even have to take out the garbage. I’d lived with families before, in juniors, so it helped me a lot. Then having Savy as a coach, I think he maybe saw a little of himself in me. So I got to play a lot. We were starting to put together a nice team. There was some excitement about us. I was fortunate there, too. 

“Plus, I love the way the game is now. Speed and skill. You look at some of the tapes of the games in the ‘90s, even later than that, before the rules changes, all the hooking and holding. If I had been around then, who knows if I would have even be able to make it in the NHL?”

Like Hall of Fame Blackhawks Ambassadors Hull and Savard — both of whom he considers kindred spirits — Kane comprehends that this is showbiz. He relishes entertaining and eliciting the roar of the crowd. But offstage, razzle dazzle and fist pumps segue into grunt work. This past summer, a longer one than desired, Kane built himself from 175 pounds to 182 with muscle, despite a cracked bone in his left wrist incurred during the final weekend of the regular schedule. All players now observe year-round conditioning — or else. But not all supremely gifted athletes draw a line in the sand and commit to cross it. In conversation, Kane mentions the word “elite” often, without prompting, only passion.

“If I’m one of the best players in the league, I want to become better,” he says. “And I have a different version of what that might mean. I’d be lying if I told you goals and assists aren’t important, but it’s more than that. I want to be more consistent, more dominant, better at takeaways and on power plays, better in my own end, better at controlling the game when I have the puck. 

“I’ve been around the same pace the last few years, and now I want to take the next step to get to another level and try to become one of the best two or three or four or five offensive players in the league. I want to become more focused, to concentrate more, and I think I can because this is what I love more than anything else: playing hockey.”
Joel Quenneville, the Blackhawks head coach, senses a natural “evolution” in Kane, a prodigy who is just scratching the surface. After all, were you perfect when you were 22? Didn’t think so. 

“I watched a documentary on Mickey Mantle the other day,” says Kane. “Great player, great talent, but he got caught up in the New York nightlife. You think about that. 

“People might be making too much of me maturing and growing; I’m still the same person. I still like to joke around and have fun in the locker room and on the road trips. I still get into arguments with Jonathan because we both have strong opinions, and we’re both so comfortable with our relationship that we can argue and still have a healthy friendship. I’m recognized around the city, which is nice and a change. The night I was sitting with my parents at that exhibition game my rookie year, nobody knew who I was. The thought of trying to reach another level in my play, it’s exciting.”

In December 2009, the Blackhawks completed long-term contract extensions for Kane, Toews and Duncan Keith — a deft bit of pro-active maneuvering by the executive branch, particularly in the era of the NHL’s rock hard salary cap. Bowman, the team’s vice president/general manager, viewed it as an institutional imperative to secure core players. It was a landmark occasion and somewhat unconventional. Then again, how many sports franchises possess three special talents in that age bracket?  When some young athletes sign for multi-millions, they figure out how to spend it. Others figure out how to earn it. Kane’s recent declaration of career objectives comes as no surprise to Bowman.

We’ve seen how [Kane] can control a game. And I think he plays his best under pressure, so I think for him, when he says he wants to get to the next level, it would be to just be dominant in every game. - VP/GM Stan Bowman

“When you hear a young player who has achieved what Patrick has say that he wants to get even better, that just goes to show you the motivation he has to be the best in the league,” he said. “For a player like Patrick, he’s an offensive player, so that would probably translate into being even more dominant than he is. We’ve seen how he can control a game. And I think he plays his best under pressure, so I think for him, when he says he wants to get to the next level, it would be to just be dominant in every game.

“If he puts his mind to it, I would bet he’s going to achieve that. He’s on a mission to have a really great season.”

Kane’s father Pat is a frequent attendee at the United Center but not a frequent flyer. He drives to and from Buffalo for 30 or so home games per season. When his son happened to become the third youngest player in NHL history to score three goals in a playoff game (against Vancouver, May 11, 2009), Patrick Hatrick noticed dad wiping his eyes near the bench.

After the Cup clincher in Philadelphia, Pat Sr. appeared in the giddy locker room, weeping again. 

Apparently, tears run in the family. Patrick the son is emotional too. He visits kids in hospitals because he can and because he cares. He doesn’t look  for the cameras, either, only the tissues.

“I watch how people love Savy because of how he treats them, not because he was a great player,” says Patrick Kane. “Money? It’s nice to have, but I sure don’t think about what I’m making when I play a hockey game. I’m rich in love with my family and friends. That’s what matters. I had such a great childhood. Then I see sick children who have no chance. I brought the Cup to a young boy last year. I went there to lift his spirits; he lifted me up. He’s gone now. I think about that, how good I have it and how I have the opportunity to get better at what I do.  I also thought about the Stanley Cup this summer, watching the Boston Bruins carry it around in June. It was like, wait a minute, isn’t that ours? Don’t we own that? Of course, we don’t. 

“I’m not worried about any statues, but I don’t want to retire from here, whenever that is, with only one of those. One Cup isn’t enough. I need more.”