Sunday, January 31, 2016

Patrick Kane showing off his skills

By Larry Wigge

Now you see him ... now you don't.

Great goal scorers have that ability to make themselves invisible and suddenly appear somewhere else where you least expect them.

Wayne Gretzky had that ability. So did Gordie Howe and Brett Hull and Jaromir Jagr, the top four goal scorers in NHL history.

"Patrick Kane is very good at kind of finding those quiet areas ... and sliding into the right spot," commented Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien. "That's why he’s a good player and scores a lot of goals.

"We just maybe have to have a little bit more awareness around our net."

Julien was shaking his head when he said that about Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks during the Stanley Cup finals in 2013.

Now, Kane has got that invisible look about him more often that he is more experienced at 27 -- and is finding those quiet areas more often. At the All-Star break, the Buffalo, N.Y., native, has 30 goals and 43 assists for 73 points. That's 15 points better than his nearest rival Jamie Benn of Dallas.

"Everybody wants to be that guy in big-time games and I've been lucky enough to be that guy a couple times," recalled Kane, whose Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup three times over that last six seasons.

But Kane knows what kind of a season he is having and the milestones he can attain along the way. He would become the first American to reach 50 goals and win the scoring title -- Zach Parise had 45 goals in the 2008-09.

Kane also had a 26-game point streak earlier this season.

"It's hard not to notice when he's doing what he's doing," said Dallas' Jamie Benn said. "It just goes to show you he's the best player in this league right now."

"Kaner has got high-end skill," coach Joel Quenneville said. "He's dangerous with the puck, his anticipation without it offensively is high end. I think reading off those guys in the offensive zone has been very effective for him.

"But guys that have that kind of innate skill of scoring. They anticipate like the rest of us would like to."

Patrick Sharp plays for Dallas now. He was with Kane in Chicago for the last eight seasons.

"He's the same kid, hockey wise," said Sharp. "The thing people don't realize about him is how much he cares about the game. How much he knows about every player in the league and the commitment to it away from the rink.

"It's nice to see him getting some credit for that."

The 30 goals that Kane has equals his high water mark, set in 2010. In that same season, Patrick had 88 points -- some 15 points better than he has now.

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."

"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," Quenneville said. "He's really in the right place. You really like how he challenges himself."

We can all remember his Stanley Cup clinching goal, 4-3, against Philadelphia in Game 4.

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 boogied it to the other end. I knew it was in. I tried to sell the celebration a bit."

At that point, 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.

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 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. "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."

"I’ve been the little guy in a game of bigger guys all my life," Kane smiled, as if to say that he knows this is the NHL, but this is just the challenge he needs at this time in his young life. "I’m not going to change my game of trying to be assertive. I’m not taking anything from anybody."
He looked around the Blackhawks locker room and added: "We’ve got a few big guys in here who have my back if something happens."

More than four months after Kane was alleged to have raped a young woman at his Buffalo area home and more than a month after local prosecutors sharply questioned the veracity of the claims against Kane in deciding not to bring criminal charges, the incident remains a shadow trailing the league's leading scorer.

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.

Even then, he was not invisible and three Stanley Cups later and a potential goal scoring and point title ahead of him, Patrick Kane is out to prove he's just another guy playing hockey at at higher level than anyone else.

And he's doing it ... front and center.

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