Buffalo is an underrated hockey town in some ways and the fan base backing the Sabres is loyal and loud. Kane grew up among these folks and coming home to play in front of family and friends for the first time as a professional hockey player was an experience he could only dream about. That is, until the morning the Blackhawks game against the Sabres.
Kane's homecoming began when he took the ice for the usual AM skate and as he walked out of the tunnel down to the ice surface at the HSBC Arena he had to have goose bumps. There he realized this morning skate was anything but typical, as he was greeted with an unexpected roar from an unusually large gathering.
It almost seemed like a family reunion for Patrick as many came to the arena that morning wearing #88 Blackhawks red and white jerseys with the name Kane on the back. Regardless of how he fared that evening, they were a proud bunch and let him know as he drifted around the ice trying to loosen up for the morning workout.
You see, Buffalo may be considered a major city, but the hockey community there has more of a small town, tight-knit feel to it, and it's possible that Kane knew most of the people in the crowd that morning in one way or another. His Blackhawk teammates insisted that he be the first to step on the ice and, as he did, the crowd rose to its feet and applauded.
Kane even took a pseudo-victory lap around the ice in an attempt to settle himself into the moment and focus on his work as a Chicago Blackhawks player readying himself for the game that evening.
|Fans welcome Patrick Kane back to Buffalo on December 15. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images) |
|Kane performs the ceremonial faceoff with his father Patrick Sr., grandfather Donald Kane, Ed Campbell and his son Brian Campbell of the Sabres. (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images) |
Though he is playing in his rookie season in the NHL, Kane handled all of the distractions like a veteran and must have been pumped up to play because he scored the game's first goal only a few minutes into the contest. The goal drew a roar from the partisan Buffalo crowd, one usually reserved for a Sabres goal.
For Buffalo hockey fans, Kane's draft selection, his outstanding play as a regular in the NHL, his leadership among NHL rookies in scoring, and his first period goal that evening were all forms of vindication, as one of their local products made good. It was a rare warm and fuzzy moment for everyone and no doubt a day in the life of young Patrick Kane that he'll not forget.
In early January, the Blackhawks made a visit to Montreal for a night that will forever be etched into my memory. That evening, the packed Bell Centre was the venue where the Canadiens organization honored some of the Original Six greats of past teams, and the Blackhawks were part of the ceremony. Blackhawks all-time leading scorer and Hockey Hall of Famer Stan Mikita, along with his wife, Jill, were guests on the Blackhawks charter and stayed with the team at the host hotel.
The morning of the game, the teams convened for their respective morning skates and the usual contingent of Montreal media (numbering in the hundreds at times) were on the job, as were all of us from the Chicago media. We knew it was going to be a special day for a lot of reasons and there was a lot of work to do. As the Blackhawks skate finished, the players trooped off the ice as did the coaches.
Then the circus began as Blackhawks head coach Denis Savard, a Hockey Hall of Famer, a Montreal native and former Canadien from Montreal's last Stanley Cup championship team in 1993, stood before both cities' media for the Q&A, first in English, then in French.
Savvy politely handled all the questions with class and dignity and I could tell he was feeling a special sense pride, but also a nervous sense of anticipation about the day. It was understandable, as this was his first trip back into his hometown as a National Hockey League head coach.
During the skate Stan was there in the tunnel, surrounded by Blackhawks personnel, friends and acquaintances from years gone by, soaking up the feeling of being back at the rink with the boys and enjoying the experience. The Montreal media were eagerly trying to talk to Stan for sound bites, quotes, stories and humorous anecdotes and he was more than accommodating.
After the Montreal media got what they needed and left, Stan told the rest of us about a game he played for the Blackhawks over in the old Montreal Forum, where he was sent to the penalty box for his involvement in a fracas with former Canadiens great Henri Richard, who was Maurice “the Rocket” Richard's younger brother.
As he served his time in the penalty box, the crowd behind him (with no Plexiglas separating the spectators from the players) began a mean-spirited chant in the French language: “@#$% Mi-kee-tah… @#$% Mi-kee-tah.” Stan, who was still fuming from the skirmish, stood up, turned around and faced the chanting crowd and then began waving his arms back and forth like a band leader would direct an orchestra.
Some in the crowd laughed, but the passions of the Montreal fans were intense and many others began booing and cursing Mikita for his actions; some even threw garbage at him. Stan told us he had a good laugh at the moment and thought that was the end of it that night.
But the next time the Blackhawks were back at the Forum, the crowd began the chant again every time Stan touched the puck or worse, was sent to the penalty box. The chant actually lasted several more seasons every time Mikita visited Montreal. So Stan, with a crafty look in his eye, told us privately: “If they introduce me tonight and I hear that chant, even faintly, I'm gonna turn around and do the same thing I did in that penalty box 40 years ago.” I made a mental note of what Stan had said to us.
When the time came for the ceremony, I watched intently from our broadcast booth, high above the ice surface, as a red carpet was rolled out in front of the benches while the Blackhawks greats of the past waited to be introduced. After several of the Blackhawks greats were introduced it was Stan's turn. I told Troy Murray about what Stan had said that morning and wondered if he was going to follow through.
Sure enough, as he was introduced, the chant must have been muttered by some of the Montreal faithful and as he got halfway down the carpet, Stan did a 180-degree turn and became a band leader one last time. This time he did it with a smile on his face and the Montreal crowd, many of whom weren't even alive when Stan did it the first time, seemed to understand the meaning of the evening and ate it up with good-natured, appreciative applause.
Then as a capper, Denis Savard, resplendent in his #18 Blackhawks hockey sweater, was introduced to a thunderous ovation from the sellout crowd and walked down the carpet to join the others who had already been introduced. After shaking hands with everyone, he took his rightful place between his Blackhawks linemates -- Al Secord on his left and Steve Larmer on his right -- who, as a trio, were one of the best lines in the history of the NHL. To my memory, it's the first time the three were reunited on an ice rink since their dominant days at old Chicago Stadium.
Thanks for reading. I'll be back with you one more time near the end of the season to share a few more memories from this season, one that has seen marked improvement for the Blackhawks organization.