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What a Vegas trip for Kane

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

LAS VEGAS – Patrick Kane was hanging out in Chicago a couple weeks ago when he fielded a call from mother Donna in Buffalo. His dad, who loathes airplanes, would not be attending the National Hockey League Awards fest.

“I was disappointed,” recalled Kane. “But I didn’t say anything. I let a couple days pass.”

The phone rang again. Father had a second thought.

“Even though I don’t like flying,” Patrick Kane Sr. was saying Wednesday evening, “I had to be here. How could I miss this?”

This was a trip, alright. The Blackhawks’ 27-year-old superstar won the Hart Memorial Trophy as most valuable player in a landslide. The Art Ross Trophy for scoring champion was already his, after a 106-point season featuring one long streak and copious portions of consistency. Then, after the writers had voted and the numbers were frozen, Kane also landed the 2016 Ted Lindsay Award for outstanding individual as chosen by fellow players.

“So proud of Patrick,” gushed Donna. “This is nine years to the day that he was drafted No. 1 by Chicago in Columbus. His dad was there, of course. We drove.”

Besides his parents, Kane was accompanied here by sisters Jacqueline, Jessica and Erica and his girlfriend, Amanda. Also, not far from Kane on center stage for an international live television happening was Artemi Panarin, Calder Trophy winner as the best rookie of the season. With Artem Anisimov as their regular pivot, Kane and Panarin clicked early and often, serving up a tasty goulash of highlight maneuvers on many cold winter nights.

“I give a lot of credit for this to the guys on our team, of course, and especially to Anisimov and the 'Bread Man', said Kane. “I’ve played with a lot of different people through the years in Chicago, which is fine. I mean, I can go out there with (Marcus) Kruger and (Andrew) Shaw, and it’s the best shift of a game because those guys are such hard workers. But playing almost all the time with the same two linemates, like I did this year, I never really had that before.

“The ‘Bread Man’, obviously, he had a huge input on my game. Anisimov, let’s face it, he basically did a lot of the dirty work. And then Panarin started to realize what he could do as the season went on. Huge numbers for a first year player, and defensively responsible too. To be with them pretty much game in and game out, and with the same line on the power play, that was also a big plus. You know where each other is. It really worked for me with the two Russians. I always kind of thought I played like a Russian (laugh). You know, trying to create, make plays, pass the puck for an opening. I’ve always taken pride not just in points, but creating.”

Kane played all 82 games during a regular season when he shattered the franchise record by registering at least a point in 26 consecutive games, also the longest NHL run by an American-born player. The Blackhawks finished with a record of 47-26-9, and in games when he recorded even one point, the team’s mark was 45-12-7. His 46 goals and 60 assists were easily career highs, and he cruised to the scoring title by 17 points over Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars. He, along with Sidney Crosby of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins were Hart nominees. But Kane routed both, securing 121 of 150 first place votes.

Besides paying homage to teammates, Kane mentioned some American-born trailblazers who preceded him – Chris Chelios, Mike Modano, Jeremy Roenick – and said he was humbled even to be a Hart candidate, let alone the first player born in the United States to win the scoring title.

Funny, Kane noted, that he normally associates trips to Las Vegas with in-season respites when Head Coach Joel Quenneville decides the boys deserve a day or two of R and R. Now, Kane was back in town, accepting the most prestigious individual honor in his sport. He is spending most of his summer in Chicago, working out and teeing it up on area golf courses. Yes, that first-round knockout against the St. Louis Blues still stings. As for roster machinations, Kane bowed to his rookie year landlord.

“Salary cap genius,” he said, referring to Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman.

Four different Blackhawks earned previous Hart Trophies. Max Bentley scored 29 goals and added 43 assists to lead the league with a sixth place team in 1946. He amassed 72 points, the team only 42.

Not to be overshadowed by an underwhelming support cast, goalie Al Rollins captured the Hart in 1954 with a squad that won 12 of 70 games and finished a resounding last, and 37 points behind fifth place. Rollins played 66 games, posted a 3.23 goals against average and lived to accept his trophy.

Bobby Hull reaped consecutive Hart Trophies in 1965 and 1966, when he registered 39 and 54 goals, respectively. In March of 1966, Hull became the first player to score more than 50 goals in a regular season by snagging his 51st against Cesare Maniago of the New York Rangers.

Then, Hull’s teammate Stan Mikita took over, receiving Hart Trophies in 1967 and 1968. Mikita added his third and fourth Art Ross Trophies, and, having abandoned his earlier methodology of truculence, achieved the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, also in 1967 and 1968. No player had collected those three honors simultaneously before and no player has done so since.

“Quite a ride,” mentioned Kane, who must have had an inkling. For this occasion, he acquired a spiffy tuxedo. (The “88” embroidered inside the jacket was not his idea, but a surprise from the designer.) Kane looks robust, and the hair is short for summer, a wise move for Tuesday’s 18 holes here in 115 degrees.

Now comes the hard part.

“Yeah,” sighed the MVP. “Now Dad has to fly back to Buffalo.”

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