"I’ve got some relatives in my family who were pretty good athletes,” said Kane. “My family has always been into sports. It was good to be able to have that family support.”
Evander’s father Perry grew up in East Preston, Nova Scotia, a small, tight-knit community just outside of Dartmouth. Perry is one of five siblings, and started playing hockey at 16-years-old with his brother Leonard, now a member of the Canadian Ball Hockey Hall of Fame. He played junior for the Cole Harbour Scotia Colts followed by the Dartmouth Arrows of the Metro Valley Junior Hockey League. From there, he skated for St. Francis-Xavier University. Following his hockey career, his passion for boxing took over, and he became an amateur boxer.
“I think he always wanted to play at the highest level possible,” said Kane. “But being black and playing hockey, especially where he grew up, and in the times he did, was not the easiest thing to do. If you talk to a lot of people that knew him, it wasn’t that he didn’t have the skills or ability or talent, there was a lot more to it.”
Perry and his wife Sheri, who was a professional volleyball player and a basketball player, moved to East Vancouver to start a family. Evander, who they named after American boxer Evander Holyfield, and his two younger sisters Brea and Kyla, were athletes right from the get-go. As a child, Evander played hockey, baseball, basketball and soccer.
“We were a really busy family but we are a really tight family,” said Kane. “Everyone was always doing something, our weekends were jam packed. I’d be at hockey, and then soccer and then my sister would be at soccer. I don’t know how my parents did it all.”
Perry did not want Evander to play organized hockey until he was 10, but his mother enrolled him two years early, at the age of eight.
“He wanted to make sure I was ready. He didn’t want me to be one of those kids who didn’t know what they were doing or couldn’t protect themselves. I worked with him everyday one on one, a lot of stick and puck. We shot on an open net and on the boards over and over. He taught me everything, how to skate, shoot the puck starting when I was three. He’s a big reason why I’m here and my entire family is as well.”
Kane’s success wasn’t delivered on a silver platter. Although looking over his impressive resume, it may look that way; he earned every trophy, medal and championship that he won.
He began his climb at age 10 playing on his dad’s house team in atom. After a year at that level, he moved on to play with the North Shore Winter Club and the rest of the story wrote itself.
“I played two years of pee-wee and two years of bantam,” he said. “Our teams at the North Shore were top notch, winning a lot of international tournaments, North American tournaments and a lot of championships. It kick-started me into becoming my own player.”
At fourteen-years-old, Kane recorded 140 points in 66 games with his bantam team, raising eyebrows of many amateur scouts across the West coast. The Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League selected Kane in the first round (19th overall) of the 2006 Bantam Draft.
As a 15-year old in midget hockey, Kane was called up for a few games during the season but the real test came when he joined the Giants for five playoff games. The Giants went all the way in 2007, winning the WHL Championship, and earning a berth in the Memorial Cup. The youngster sat out the round robin portion of the tournament but head coach Don Hay gave the rookie the nod for the semi-final and the final games.
We were a really busy family but we are a really tight family. Everyone was always doing something, our weekends were jam packed. I'd be at hockey, and then soccer and then my sister would be at soccer. I don't know how my parents did it all. - Evander Kane
“It was the day after we had lost to the Medicine Hat Tigers so we had to play Plymouth in the semi’s. Hay called my house around midnight the night before and told my dad to tell me to be ready to play tomorrow. We ended up beating them like 8-1 and I picked up an assist so I was pretty happy. I was then fortunate enough to play in the finals two days later and win the Memorial Cup.”
“Being only 15-years-old, you don’t think it’s going to happen, but things just fell into place. It was so great to be part of it.”
Kane continued to succeed and gain confidence every day as he developed with the Vancouver Giants. In his second WHL season (2008-09), he recorded single-season franchise records for goals scored (48) in his 61 games played.
Second in team scoring only to linemate Casey Pierro-Zabotel's 115 points, the pair finished one-two in all-time Giants' single-season scoring.
“I had some really good success that year,” Kane said. “Our line had some great chemistry. That was probably one of the most fun years, it was unfortunate the way we lost in the third round of the playoffs, but that will be a year I will always look back on.”
Kane also earned a spot on Team Canada at the 2009 World Junior Championships after originally being cut from the team. An injury after selection camp opened up a roster spot for Evander. That year, Canada went on to win the Gold Medal at the tournament.
“It was definitely disappointing to get cut from camp, as it was the first time I had ever been cut from a hockey team,” he remembered. “Pat Quinn was the coach and he was one of the owners of the Giants, so I had a pretty good relationship with him. It was a weird feeling being the callback but I wanted to prove that I could play. I went on to have a pretty good tournament and it was incredible to win the gold on home-ice.”
The next leap for Kane was being drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers (3rd overall) at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He became the highest-drafted Vancouver-born-and-raised player in history, the highest drafted Vancouver Giants player in the history of the franchise, as well as the highest drafted black hockey player.
“The draft day was a big day, it changed my life and it changed my family’s life,” said Kane. “It is something I’ll always remember.
“I wasn’t thinking about being the highest black player drafted, I just wanted to go high,” he chuckled. “Of the few black players who are in the league there are a lot of really talented ones and some really big stars so it’s great to have that feather in your cap. It is definitely an honour and a privilege.”
Kane was pushed to mature very quickly after he was drafted; he signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Thrashers. He made the lineup right out of camp that year, and before he knew it, he was a professional hockey player.
He scored his first NHL career point in his NHL debut and his first goal on October 8th against the St. Louis Blues (with Chris Mason in net). He finished his NHL rookie campaign with 14 goals and 26 points in 66 games.
“Hockey prepares you at a young age to grow up a lot faster than most of the peers that are your age,” said Kane. “Ever since I was 15, I’ve been living at other people’s houses and away from home. Coming into the NHL at a young age, at 18-years-old, you’ve just graduated high school so it was definitely interesting, but something that I prepared for and was really excited about. It was a great experience for me.”