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Kane eager for Buffalo homecoming

by Adam Kimelman

Blackhawks' forward Patrick Kane hails from Buffalo,
New York, and will get his first chance to play before
his hometown fans when Chicago visits on Saturday.
Patrick Kane just turned 19 and has yet to play a pro game there, but his name already is up in the HSBC Arena rafters.

Well, not in exactly the way you’re thinking.

“I signed the last piece of steel to go up in HSBC Arena,” said Kane, who got special access from his aunt, a local politician. “I’m not sure what I signed, probably just my name, but I think it’s next to (the banner for founding owner) Seymour Knox.”

Kane, the Chicago Blackhawks’ rookie sensation, will be back in his hometown of Buffalo Saturday for his first professional game at the arena he grew up about 10 minutes away from.

“Buffalo is pretty much where my life is,” Kane said. “It's where my family is. It's where my life started. It's where I started playing hockey. It's where I go back to in the summer and where all my friends are. It's going to be awesome. I'm not really sure what to expect right now, but I'm sure it will be a lot of fun for me.”

And if early season form holds, his personal cheering section certainly will have something to scream about.

Kane, the top overall pick in last summer’s draft, leads the Blackhawks (and all NHL rookies) with 21 assists and 28 points in 29 games. Powered by Kane and fellow rookie Jonathan Toews, Chicago is in the mix for its first playoff spot since the 2001-02 season.

The Blackhawks suddenly have become interesting again, as attendance is up from an average of 12,727 (second-to-last in the League) last season to 13,679 so far in 2007-08.

“Coming into this season, there was talk about how there wasn't really much buzz around the Blackhawks, the attendance wasn't very good, all of that,” Kane said. “The first game we're there, it sold out. I think things are starting to turn around. Hopefully we can turn the buzz into a real contender team. If I’m a piece of that puzzle, that's great. I'll be happy to do whatever I can to help the team and the organization.”

Surprisingly, he’s been helping since the beginning of the season. After what he called a rough preseason – “I kind of felt lost out there,” he said – Kane, who turned 19 on Nov. 19, wasn’t sure if he would make the team or go back to the Ontario Hockey League.

Now, though, he’s starting to get the hang of this whole professional hockey player thing.

“I think coming into the season, probably the biggest thing for me was to try to make the team,” he said. “Once that kind of happened, things started coming in. I seemed to get a little more ice team here and there, some more opportunities to play with better players and I had a good start. Before you know it, we're playing -- myself and Jonathan, we're playing against the top checking lines. I guess you don't expect things to happen that quick.”

Quick would be an understatement. Kane was named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for October after scoring 16 points in 12 games, the most in a month by a first-year player in 15 years.

His pace recently has slowed, with just seven points -- all assists -- in his last 11 games, but the hope is a return to the place he was born and lived until he was 14 can spark his energy.

“It's been a little bit since I've been comfortable with my game,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is probably keep working hard in practice and keep working hard and don't get down on yourself because it's a tough league. It's the best league in the world and you're going to go through these things. As long as you're working hard, doing the right things, things should turn up once again.”

And he always can commiserate with his coach. At 5-foot-10 and 163 pounds, Kane isn’t much smaller than Denis Savard, who crafted a Hall-of-Fame career despite standing measuring just 5-10 and 170 pounds.

“He came in the league as a young player, too,” said Kane. “He's not overly a big player. He doesn't have that great size. I think it definitely helps. I mean, I think we can relate to each other, obviously the style of game that we both play. You know, I think people mention my size, but if I was 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, maybe I wouldn't be the same player I am today. I'm just thankful for everything I've gotten.”

One thing he hasn’t had to worry about for the big return home has been getting tickets.

“I think I only have to get about 15 to 20 tickets for the game,” he said. “That should be good. I think with a lot of my friends, they went out and bought the tickets early. They didn't really know I could get tickets. … Pretty much all of my relatives have gotten either like a box or something, a bunch of seats. I really haven't had to worry about it too much. They didn't even put anything on me really. I'm just getting tickets for my friends.”

And he’s hoping he can send all those folks home happy.

“Talking to my parents and my friends, it’s going to be one of the greatest nights of my life,” said Kane. “I don’t think a lot of those things have sunk in, that I’m an NHL player. That night I think those things will sink in.”



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