Raising Kane

 

It’s summer in Chicago 

 and Windy City sports fans are buzzing about their hometown Cubs. Sporting the best record in the Major Leagues, the hard-luck nine seem destined to snap a century long drought and bring home their first World Series title since 1908.

Despite that longstanding futility, the Cubs and this blue collar city go together like brats and Old Style Beer on a sunny afternoon in the Wrigley Field bleachers. But being a Cubs’ fan is a badge of honor for their diehard followers. One thing is for certain about Chicagoans, they stick by their teams through good times and bad, even when those bad times last a lifetime.

Patrick Kane is well acquainted with Chicago fans’ passion for their teams. Since being drafted by the Blackhawks with the first pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, he has helped lead a resurgence of the Original Six franchise that has captured three Stanley Cups in the past six years, making it a modern-day dynasty in a league that prides itself on parity.

“People really love hockey in the city,” says Kane, whose overtime goal in Game 6 of the 2010 finals gave the city its first Stanley Cup celebration in almost 50 years.

“It’s a pretty fun atmosphere to be around, and it’s a pretty special place to play. It’s a great sports city when you have some teams that are winning.”

And while the Second City is his second home, Kane was quick to pack his hockey bag and shuffle back to Buffalo to spend the offseason with family and childhood friends.

That was until this summer. After the Blackhawks were dealt an uncharacteristic first-round exit from the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs at the hands of their archrival St. Louis Blues, Kane stayed in Chicago. He was determined to work harder than he ever has before and return to the ice a better player.

 

From the outside,

  that would seem like the goal of any player worth his salt. But when you consider what Kane accomplished in the 2015-16 campaign, one wouldn’t blame him for resting on his laurels.

Kane is coming off a career season in which he had 46 goals and 106 points, becoming the first American-born player to win the scoring title and the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. He also earned the Ted Lindsay Award as the NHL’s most outstanding player, as voted on by fellow members of the NHL Players Association.

And still, the 27-year-old still sees room for improvement.

“Once you accomplish something you set out to either do it again or do some even better things because you only get one crack of it,” Kane says during a break at the World Cup of Hockey training camp in Columbus, Ohio.

“You want to make the most of yourself as a hockey player, max out your potential, take care of yourself and do your best while you’re in your prime. That’s kind of where I’m at right now, just trying to not be satisfied and have that motivation to keep pushing myself.”

That motivation is an essential part of his DNA. Whether it’s a friendly game of basketball with his childhood friends back home in Buffalo or competing in small area games at a Team USA practice, Kane does not take losing lightly. The look of dejection and frustration on his face after the Blackhawks were eliminated speaks volumes about what drives him to be the best.

With the longest offseason

  of his professional career, Kane set out to find another level to his game. Earlier in the summer he ticked off a short laundry list of things he wanted to improve, including his shot, explosiveness and agility. He worked with Blackhawks strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman to improve in those areas, and more. He was also determined to take better care of his 5-foot-11, 175-pound body, not necessarily for the short term but more for the future.

He has become one of the most marketable faces in the NHL, and consistently ranks among the league scoring leaders while amassing a greatest hits collection of highlight reel goals.

It’s not only the ice where Kane continues to develop. Now entering his tenth season in the league, his presence in the community and in Blackhawks locker room is a big part of the team’s success.

And for his teammates who have been with him at past international competitions, including two Olympics, they have noticed a change in their talented teammate. His maturity even caught the attention of Team USA head coach John Tortorella, who named Kane an assistant captain on a squad loaded with leaders on their respective NHL clubs.

“He’s probably one of our greatest players, and one of the best players in the world,” Tortorella says after making the announcement. “I like him. He’s a different cat.

“I don’t coach him [during the NHL season], but I watch him and I see a maturity about him. I think he’s ready for more responsibility as a leader of a USA team whereas in the past it was ‘Kaner, go play.’”
It’s a role Kane does not take lightly.

“When Torts said my name on the ice I was taken back a bit, but you look around the room you have a few captains, a bunch of assistant captains, guys who have been captains for U.S. Teams before,” he says. “What a great honor for me to be part of that leadership group and to be able to wear a letter on my jersey.”

It’s just another chapter in the ever-evolving story of one of America’s greatest players. Dating back to his earliest days in hockey he has never been the biggest, the fastest or the strongest player. He has simply been the best.

 

He recalls a time

  in West Seneca, N.Y., when he stickhandled through the other team and scored. As he returned to the bench, happy with his accomplishments, he was surprised by his coach who sat him for the remainder of the period and said, ‘You’re not going to play until you learn to use your teammates.’

That lesson stuck with him through his time with the National Team Development Program and beyond to the point where the Blackhawks coaches pleaded with him to shoot more. It helped Kane develop the uncanny ability to slow the game down and create a scoring chance that didn’t exist seconds earlier.

 

“It’s funny because

  at every level you’re a little bit of a different player. In Juniors I was more of a scorer. And then when I came to the NHL I was more of a playmaker and people wanted me to start shooting more,” Kane says.

“You kind of learn how to play the game as you get older. The best way to play is to have that 50-50 balance where your opponents don’t know whether you’re going to shoot or pass. I still feel that I can probably shoot a little bit more but I just try to play off my instincts and whatever they tell me to do I go with that.”

Those instincts have taken him a long way so far.  While he’d rather battle Dustin Byfuglien for a loose puck in the corner than to talk about his legacy, as the first American to garner MVP honors it’s hard not to put Kane in the company of  icons like Brett Hull, Joe Mullen, Mike Modano and John LeClair.

“You think of all the American players who have played the game, it’s pretty mind boggling that I’m the first,” he admits.

“It’s quite an honor and sets you back and humbles you a little bit. It’s something that I’ll be even more proud of when everything is said and done.”

 

In the meantime, 

he continues to reach for another level to his game. He has made a career of proving people wrong, that he’s not too small, too frail or too reckless to be cast among the game’s elite, but so far he’s done that—and more.

It’s a passion for the game more than anything else that drives him to be the best. And the sting of an early exit from last year’s playoffs provides the fuel for that fire.

“I think we will have a pretty good team again so we should be right there in the mix. We have to try to make it to the playoffs and then anything can happen,” he says.

“As for myself, you never want to be satisfied and happy about last season. You want to make sure that you’re able to do it again and prove that it wasn’t a fluke. That’s kind of where my mind is at right now and hopefully keep pushing the envelope and getting better.”

If there is another level to his game, his fans can’t wait to see it, just as opposing coaches can’t bear to look.

“He has a desire to be the best. You can see it in the way he practices and the way he trains. It’s also fun to see him as a person grow and become the type of superstar that he has become,” said New Jersey Devils head coach John Hynes, who coached Kane for two years at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.

“When you look at his maturity level, he has come a long way. For us on the U.S. Team it’s great to hear that, but for opposing NHL teams it’s not such a good thing.”

 


By Harry Thompson

 

Issue: 
2016-10

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