Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The size of your heart makes Patrick Kane better

By Larry Wigge

Size does matter in hockey. Well, not that huge size that defenseman 6-9, 250-pound Zdeno Chara. But ...

Each year in the NHL Entry Draft a player of size is named the first overall pick. That's why going into the 2007 draft there were questions about who would take center stage. Who would be the first pick? The name was still secret to Chicago Black Hawks GM Dale Tallon.

Even after we learned that Tallon had turned down an offer from the St. Louis Blues of three first-round picks -- the ninth, 20th and 26th picks.

I confirmed the Blues interest in the top pick ... and they were offering those three first-round picks for Patrick Kane. But St. Louis was told NO, NO and NO.

Kane was a modest 5-10, 163-pounds. But that didn't matter.

"It's the size of his heart that's more important," Tallon told me. "Guys his size that play the perimeter, you have concerns about moving up to the next level. But Pat gets his nose dirty, gets into the traffic areas and he doesn't get knocked down. He has a solid, wide base for his size, and when he gets stronger it's going to be even more difficult to knock him down.

"It was at the World Junior tournament where we really saw how good he was. That's an under-20 tournament, and 18-year-olds usually struggle. But he was one of the best players and one of the youngest players over there. That spoke volumes."

Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren agreed, saying; "I'm not sure his size is a factor, because of the way the game has changed in the NHL and small players with speed are excelling. In my opinion, he's a special player and is going to do just fine."

"I've been the little guy in a game of bigger guys all my life," Kane smiled. "I'm not going to change my game of trying to be assertive. I'm not taking anything from anybody."

"Patrick has put some expectations on himself," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "He's really in the right place. You really like how he challenges himself."

In just his sixth season in the NHL, Kane, the Buffalo, native, has already scored 20 goals in each season. And he has helped the Black Hawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010. The first Cup victory for Chicago since 1961.

As he faked right, left and right again, Kane glided until he was almost parallel to the goal. It was a seemingly impossible angle. Yet Patrick flicked the puck toward the net, where it slipped between goalie Michael Leighton's legs and vanished.

No red light went on ... and both teams had to wait several moments until the officials confirmed the goal after reviewing the replay and searching for the puck in the padding at the back of the net.

But Kane did not need a review.

"I shot, I saw it go right through the legs, sticking right under the pad in the net," he said. "I don't think anyone saw it in the net."

Kane went on to say, "I boogie it to the other end. I knew it was in. I tried to sell the celebration a bit."

The small kid from Buffalo had scored the overtime game-winning goal during Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals on June 9, 2010. No one was calling Kane too small to play the game.

The size of his heart was just fine. His playmaking is off-the-boards. His deceptiveness -- in and out of moves -- is exceptional.

So ... what do you not like about his game. Problems, maybe. What about his off-the-ice issues. 

On August 9, 2009, Kane and his cousin, James M. Kane, were arrested in Buffalo. According to a police report, Kane was apprehended around 5:00 a.m. after allegedly punching cab driver Jan Radecki, when he claimed to not have proper change for their trip fare. Kane and his cousin's cab fare came out to be $14.80 and they gave him $15.00.

Kane was charged with second-degree robbery, fourth-degree criminal mischief, and theft of services. He pled not guilty. On August 27, Kane and cousin pled guilty to noncriminal disorderly conduct charges, and were both given conditional discharges, avoiding any penalties if they stayed out of trouble for a year, and also ordered to apologize to Radecki.

He was in the wrong place last summer, when fans' cellphone cameras captured him drinking and partying in Madison, Wis. This came after Kane's least-productive season as a pro. It ended with him going without a playoff goal in a first-round loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.

"It's not who I want to be," Kane said. "I want to be somebody who can be a role model to kids and to everyone, for that matter. It's something I want to put behind me and be the best person and player I can be ... It was the end of the season and I was looking for a good weekend with my friends and things got a little out of control."

Role model to kids. He has been that this season. The Black Hawks and his family have become more vigilant in that area.

Current Black Hawks GM Stan Bowman recalled that, when Kane lived in his house, the 18-year-old rookie's life was essentially sleeping, playing for the Blackhawks and playing basement hockey with Bowman's two sons, Will and Cameron, 5 and 2 at the time.

"My kids would play shinny hockey with him in the basement," Bowman said. "He was a great big brother to them."

The change in Kane, Bowman said, was the acceptance that what he did away from the rink would affect his reputation as much as what he did on the ice.

"Everyone makes mistakes in their life, and he's under a different microscope than everyone else," Bowman said. "I would argue that he is one of the most recognizable athletes in the NHL."

He is the son of Patrick and Donna Kane. Patrick had a car dealership in Buffalo -- and once sold a car to Dominek Hasek. 

On one wall there is Patrick at 2 or 3, sitting in his father's lap in the background of a poster of American hockey great Pat LaFontaine.

In another picture, little Patrick is wearing the jersey of Hasek. There's also a picture of Patrick at 7 or 8 with his favorite player growing up, Joe Sakic.

After Patrick finished 3rd grade, the guy in charge of the house league told his father: "I have to give you your money back. We've had too many complaints. Your kid is scoring too many goals."

Patrick's father has a unique way of improving his son's reflexes, peripheral vision and hand eye coordination. He constantly throws a rubber ball that can be mistaken for a chew toy at Patrick unannouced. Sounds pretty annoying considering they travel everywhere together. It must be working because he's pretty much America's version of Wayne Gretzky.

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 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."

Kane continued, "I watched a documentary on Mickey Mantle the other day. 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 Toews 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."

Quenneville knows when Kane is at his best.

"He wants the puck. It seems like he has it a lot of times and he's dangerous," Quenneville said. "I think he's skating better and shooting the puck as well as I've ever seen him shoot it."

Patrick Kane takes it one step further.

"I just try not to be satisfied and keep getting better, even now," Kane said. "Hopefully that's what I'll keep bringing for the rest of the year, because so far it's been pretty good."

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