Old man winger: Kane ag­ing grace­fully

Hawks’ quest for re­turn to play­offs got Pa­trick Kane work­ing early

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGO SPORTS - By Jimmy Green­field Chicago Tri­bune jgreen­[email protected]­bune.com Twit­ter @jc­greenx

Black­hawks fans ap­proach Pa­trick Kane like an old friend all the time be­cause, well, he’s a su­per­star and that’s what fans some­times do.

Some of them cut right to the chase.

“They’ll ask straight up, ‘Are we go­ing to be bet­ter this year?’ ” Kane said Fri­day.

And what does he tell them? “I’ll just keep it sim­ple and tell them we’ll be bet­ter for sure, which I truly be­lieve,” Kane said.

Kane be­lieves it be­cause he looks around the locker room and spots team­mates who, like him­self, are ded­i­cated to re-es­tab­lish­ing the Hawks as a force in the West­ern Con­fer­ence, some­thing that was a given for a decade. Tell an NHL prog­nos­ti­ca­tor now that the Hawks are a play­off team and the re­ac­tion is likely to be a gig­gle rather than a con­fir­ma­tion.

That’s what hap­pens when a team not only misses the post­sea­son for the first time in 10 sea­sons but fin­ishes in last place in the divi­sion. It’s what hap­pens when the core play­ers who helped win three Stan­ley Cups are ei­ther done with hockey (Pa­trick Sharp, Mar­ian Hossa), in their 30s (Jonathan Toews, Dun­can Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford) or strug­gling to re­cover from a de­bil­i­tat­ing in­jury (Crawford).

Kane doesn’t fall into those cat­e­gories — at least not yet. The boy won­der, who was the NHL’s rookie of the year at 19 and scored a Stan­ley Cup-win­ning over­time goal at 22, is on the cusp of turn­ing

30. But don’t call him an elder states­man or sug­gest he’s still a kid. Nei­ther de­scrip­tion fits.

“I’m still 29; it’s not like I’m 45,” said Kane, whose birth­day is Nov.

19. “I feel like a mix of both, to be hon­est. I’ve played for a while (so) I feel I can con­nect to the older guys on our team or the guys (who) have been around a while.

“But at the same time I re­ally like hang­ing out with the young guys. I love be­ing with them on the ice, go­ing out to eat with them or just talk­ing about what they’re go­ing through. So I guess I’m kind of in the mid­dle.”

The way the 2017-18 sea­son ended left a ter­ri­ble taste in Kane’s mouth, but in hind­sight the way it started also trou­bled him. The year be­fore, after win­ning the Cen­tral Divi­sion and hav­ing the West’s best record, the Hawks scored a to­tal of three goals in an em­bar­rass­ing four-game sweep at the hands of the Preda­tors.

When pre­par­ing for last sea­son, Kane said the Hawks might have put too much em­pha­sis on be­ing ready for the play­offs be­fore they even got there.

“We didn’t fo­cus on train­ing camp or the reg­u­lar sea­son,” he said.

That won’t be the case this sea­son. After play­ing in the World Cham­pi­onships in May and be­ing named tour­na­ment MVP, Kane took a month off be­fore re­sum­ing skat­ing and work­ing out in late June. He re­called some years in which he didn’t start skat­ing un­til Septem­ber.

“A lot of us trained very hard,” Kane said. “A lot of us skated to­gether in the sum­mer here in Chicago (and) worked on dif­fer­ent things (to) just be a lit­tle more at­ten­tive to the de­tails com­ing into camp . ... I think a lot of us are ready. We’re just re­ally fine-tun­ing things and lis­ten­ing to what the coaches have to say, how we want to play dif­fer­ent.

“A lot of us are al­most treat­ing these train­ing camp prac­tices like games. We want to come out and be the best we can that day.”

Kane’s off­sea­son in­cluded spend­ing time with renowned hockey trainer Dar­ryl Bel­fry in Tampa, Fla., where team­mates Alex DeBrin­cat and Nick Sch­maltz joined them. The three for­wards — the Hawks’ top three scor­ers last sea­son — spent a lot of time work­ing on break­out drills, which Kane be­lieves helped cre­ate chem­istry that will carry over into this sea­son.

“He’s at the top tier of the league, but he’s al­ways push­ing to be bet­ter,” Sch­maltz said of Kane. “You look at a guy like that and want to fol­low suit and try to do ev­ery­thing you can, maybe do some of the stuff he does off the ice or on the ice.

“We’re al­ways work­ing on the ice after prac­tices. It’s re­ally cool to see a guy like that putting in so much work.”

The early work­outs and fo­cus on con­di­tion­ing seem to have helped Kane el­e­vate his game, which Hawks coach Joel Quen­neville no­ticed on the first day of train­ing camp.

“Ev­ery year I al­ways find he gets a lit­tle bit bet­ter,” Quen­neville said. “(Fri­day) on the ice, man, he jumped out at me as far as how ef­fi­cient he was in his quick­ness. He just finds a way to en­hance a pretty spe­cial game.”

Kane isn’t the type to be in­tro­spec­tive about his ca­reer, which might be past the half­way point. He is a cer­tain fu­ture Hall of Famer with 828 ca­reer points in 11 sea­son­sand has a de­cent chance to break Stan Mikita’s team record of 1,467. Kane had 76 points — 27 goals and 49 as­sists — last sea­son.

“Time has went by re­ally fast,” Kane said. “I was talk­ing to Hossa (Fri­day) and he couldn’t be­lieve I was turn­ing 30 be­cause when he came in I was one of the younger guys on our team.

“I feel re­ally good My body feels good. I’ve gained a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence and can use that to be the best ver­sion of me.”

What is the best ver­sion of Pa­trick Kane?

“It’s when I have the puck a lot,” he said. “The big­gest thing for me is to go out and con­trol the game. If I have the puck and start cre­at­ing space for my­self and my team­mates, then good things are go­ing to hap­pen. That’s my goal — get the puck and try to make plays.”

And lead the Hawks back to the play­offs.

“I feel I can con­nect to the older guys on our team or the guys (who) have been around a while. But at the same time I re­ally like hang­ing out with the young guys.”

— Pa­trick Kane, who turns 30 in Novem­ber

ABEL URIBE/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE PHO­TOS

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