|Chicago's leading scorer, Patrick Kane, is a Buffalo native.
He’s proud to say his Buffalo roots embody his game.
“Just the blue-collar mentality,” he said. “Hard-working people. If you look at the people in Buffalo, they work hard. It’s just a hard-working city.”
But when one of the biggest sporting events in Buffalo history comes up, he’ll be putting in his day of hard work more than 3,000 miles away.
Kane won’t personally be a part of the NHL Winter Classic, the first outdoor regular-season game played in the United States. The New Year’s Day tilt pits the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
Instead Kane, the leading scorer for the Chicago Blackhawks, will be in Los Angeles preparing for a game against the Kings that night. He absolutely will, though, find a few minutes to get in front of a TV.
“If it’s on and I can watch it, I’ll definitely get a peak,” he said.
Buffalo’s long, cold winters allow for a lot of hockey, but Kane said he didn’t spend a lot of time skating outdoors.
“I skated at the rink they have down at city hall, the outdoor rink,” he said. “Just skating there, whether it was a school event or a public skate with my dad.”
He skated well enough -- inside and out -- to play for the elite Buffalo Saints club team. At age 14, he moved to Detroit to play for the famed Honeybaked youth team. From there he moved on to the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., then spent one season with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, where he scored 62 goals and 145 points in just 58 games, winning Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year honors.
The Blackhawks took Kane No. 1 overall in last summer’s NHL Entry Draft, and the 19-year-old certainly hasn’t disappointed, leading the Blackhawks (and all NHL rookies) with 21 assists and 28 points in 29 games.
Kane said some friends and family members are eagerly awaiting the NHL Winter Classic. The uniqueness of an outdoor NHL game, played in an NFL stadium – the 2003 Heritage Classic, between the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers at a football stadium in Edmonton was the first such game – makes it far more than just another regular-season game.
“It’s pretty cool,” Kane said. “I think a lot of them are going to go to it. Hopefully, it stays cold so the ice will be OK. It’s good for the city; it’s good for the Sabers; good for Buffalo in general.”
Fans in Buffalo certainly agree, as 42,000 tickets put on sale for the event sold out in about 30 minutes. With another 30,000 tickets reserved for Sabres and Penguins ticket holders, among others, the Winter Classic easily should become the highest-attended NHL game ever.
Those that do file into the stadium on New Year’s Day will have to be a hale and hearty bunch. The winter winds will be whipping off Lake Erie, which will make conditions tough for players, coaches and fans.
Kane, meanwhile, will be wearing his T-shirt and shorts in sunny Southern California, more worried about sunburn than freezer burn. But he has no doubts his hometown fans will hold up just fine, no matter what Mother Nature unleashes.
“People don’t worry about that in Buffalo,” he said. “It’s just like going to another Bills game.”
Based on the success of previous outdoor games like the Heritage Classic, the Cold War game between the University of Michigan and Michigan State at Spartan Stadium in 2001 and an outdoor contest at Lambeau Field in 2006 between Ohio State and Wisconsin, a New Year’s Day outdoor contest could become a tradition.
What about a game at Chicago’s Soldier Field?
“I think it would be pretty cool,” said Kane. “I know it would be pretty cold out there. I know people that participated (in previous outdoor games) didn’t enjoy it, but for me it would be pretty cool to play outside.”