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Patrick Kane 'dialed in' for Team USA

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika / Chicago Blackhawks

In July, the members of Team USA for the World Cup of Hockey 2016 received a package. It was a USB drive with a TV broadcast of the final game of the 1996 World Cup, a 5-2 victory for Team USA against Team Canada in Montreal and one of the proudest moments in United States hockey history.

The management group wanted the players to watch what the likes of Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter did against the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey and Curtis Joseph, hoping they can do the same thing in this tournament from Sept. 17 through Oct. 1 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Patrick Kane plugged the USB drive into his computer and plugged into the past as Team USA rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the third period with four goals in the final 3:18, Tony Amonte scoring the winner.

"I couldn't believe how intense and fun of a hockey game that was to watch," Kane said at Team USA training camp this week at Nationwide Arena. "I almost felt like a fan, just kind of sitting back and watching not only the American players, but the great Canadian players who played back then too."

Kane is an absolute hockey nut. He knows the game in deep detail. He knows statistics, both traditional and advanced. He knows players, both past and present.

It is one thing to know the big names from Team USA in 1996: Amonte, Hull, Leetch, Richter, Chris Chelios, Phil Housley, Pat LaFontaine, John LeClair, Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk. It's another to point out LaFontaine played on the penalty kill and Joel Otto won key faceoffs, as Kane did the other day.

It is one thing to say USA Hockey has rising stars in Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, Dylan Larkin and Auston Matthews, as Kane did the other day. It's another to know who is coming after them.

"He's aware of what's going on with our [National Team Development Program] and who the rising players are," Team USA director of hockey operations Jim Johannson said. "Is he a fan? Yeah, he's a fan. But he also has knowledge of what is going on there."

Now Kane has a chance to bolster his place in hockey history, particularly American hockey history, in this World Cup.

At 27, he's already up there. He has won the Stanley Cup three times with the Chicago Blackhawks, and an Olympic silver medal. He has won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last season, he became the first U.S.-born player to win the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's scoring champion and the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP. He had 106 points, 17 more than anyone else in the League.

"He's probably one of our greatest players," Team USA coach John Tortorella said.

Kane could turn out to be the greatest American player of all time if he keeps this up, and Team USA is pushing him to grow.

In August, Team USA general manager Dean Lombardi called Kane to reinforce that the management group felt he was ready to take the next step; to not only be a top player but to take ownership of the team.

"There's a big difference between playing well and playing to win, and we talked about that," Lombardi said. "We talked about the '96 team and things. He was engaged."

Lombardi was so impressed, he called senior advisor Brian Burke afterward and said: "This kid's dialed in already."

"There was a maturity there that you could sense," Lombardi said. "He wasn't being political. I thought it was really sincere. And just seeing him here … It's hard to define, but you see that eye. Those special guys, the look in their eye, there's a fire there. … There's a guy there that's on a mission."

Kane will serve as an alternate captain for Team USA at the World Cup, and Tortorella will rely on him. Kane won't just play right wing on the top line with left wing Max Pacioretty and center Joe Pavelski. He won't just play the half wall on the top power-play unit. He will take shifts with other players in other situations, with the expectation he will lift them up and make a difference.

"I want him to take more responsibility now," Tortorella said. "I think he's ready for more responsibility as a leader of a USA team, where before it was, 'Kaner, go play.' "

Kane's last international appearance was a bitter disappointment. He lost his grandfather before the 2014 Sochi Olympics and played with a heavy heart. He had zero goals and four assists in the tournament. He and his teammates were shut out 1-0 in the semifinal by Canada and 5-0 in the bronze-medal game by Finland. Twice in the bronze-medal game, he had a penalty shot. Twice, he failed to score.

"I remember going back through the tournament, I didn't think I played that bad," Kane said. "I just didn't really score or capitalize on my chances. That was a little bit disappointing. Obviously when you look at what I'm there for, I'm there for production and to be an offensive guy to produce, and that didn't happen there."

Kane doesn't want that to happen again in this tournament. He doesn't want to fall off from his Art Ross and Hart level when the NHL season starts, either.

"I think that's where the motivation is for me now," he said. "You don't want to have that one good season and then fall down below that. You want to keep that level of consistency. I feel like I'm in the prime of my career now, so try to take advantage of that and extend that as long as I possibly can."

Despite all he has done, Kane is not satisfied. He has vague memories of the '96 team. He was only 7 years old then. But he has seen the highlights, heard the stories, watched that final game on his computer, and he knows what this means.

"What an amazing generation of players," Kane said. "I think it paved the way for USA Hockey to kind of grow, and I mean, you look at some of the players we have in here now, we're trying to make that name for ourselves as American players, trying to prove ourselves as Team USA."

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