CHICAGO -- Somewhere in his parents' basement in Buffalo are a whole bunch of Buffalo Sabres hockey sweaters that used to belong to Patrick Kane.
Some have "Mogilny" or "Lafontaine" or "Hasek" stitched on the back, while several are No. 11 and have "Kane" across the nameplate. Those particular jerseys also have a captain's "C" in the front corner.
Needless to say, the Chicago Blackhawks' star forward was quite the Sabres fan when growing up in Buffalo. He'd attend games with his family and play "mini sticks" in the hallways outside the concession area between periods.
During the game, he'd sit near the visiting team's bench and soak in the entire scene -- from all the sticks in the rack to how each player looked as they came out from the locker room ready to play.
"I was probably five or six years old when I started and went to about 20 games a year until I was like 13 or 14 and I moved away from home," said Kane, who will face his childhood favorite team on Wednesday night at the United Center for the sixth time in his NHL career. "I probably became an even bigger Sabres fan just watching from the sidelines. I've got a lot of good memories in that rink, playing mini-sticks with my buddies in the hallway and missing periods because you're out playing mini-sticks."
In the Sabres' old arena, they'd used the heaters in the hallway as "nets" and shoot makeshift pucks at them with mini hockey sticks purchased at the concession stands. They also had another intermission tradition that involved food.
"I remember always having to get the nachos between the second and the first period and the ice cream between the second and third," Kane said on Wednesday morning. "Different things like that, that were kind of silly is what makes these games kind of special to me now … to look back on them."
He still keeps track of the Sabres and how they're doing season to season, but his days as a "fan" are over -- despite his friends and family back home still passionately following the Sabres.
"You keep track (of them), for sure," said Kane, whose favorite Sabres were Dominik Hasek, Alexander Mogilny and Pat Lafontaine -- along with the best players on opposing teams. "To say I'm rooting for them, I'd probably be lying to you. Ever since I got drafted to the Hawks, that's probably when my Sabres fan days died. Other than that, though, I still keep tabs on them. I guess that's just how it happens."
Thus, he won't feel any remorse if the Blackhawks add to Buffalo's current losing streak -- which stands at just two games in a row overall, but spans nine straight road games dating back to early November. Kane is well aware of how frustrating this season has been for the Sabres, because he hears about it a lot with the angst of friends back in Buffalo.
"There's a lot of frustration, for sure," Kane said. "You hear a lot of different things they're saying about the Sabres, but I don't know … sometimes a team doesn't have the right chemistry and sometimes you go through slumps. Who knows the real reason? I'm not really sure, to be honest with you, and right now I'm worried about tonight's game -- trying to pounce on a team that's struggling and hopefully make their wound a little worse."
Kane's been in a bit of a scoring funk recently, with just 3 goals in the past 27 games and none in the past six, but he's played well against his hometown team in the previous five meetings (2 goals and 3 assists).
"I don't get to play them much," Kane said. "I think this is the sixth time in my career, so it's a little more special. It's one of the first things you look for on the schedule, whether you're going back to Buffalo or they're coming here. It's exciting. It's a game that doesn't come around a lot and I try to take advantage of it."