DETROIT — Patrick Kane says there are things he knows now – on and off the ice – that he didn’t when he was the youngest player on USA Hockey’s team at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
“How to work harder in the summer or take better care of yourself as far as eating and different things like that,” Kane said. “Picking the right times to have fun with the guys and to make sure that when you’re doing it, you’re doing it right, and you’re careful about the way you’re going about it.”
Kane’s maturation no doubt played a part in the Chicago Blackhawks winning two of the last four Stanley Cups. His improved street smarts and on-ice savvy could also improve the Americans’ chances of winning Olympic gold in hockey for the first time since 1980. The 25-year-old Kane said he gets chills when he watches movies about the “Miracle on Ice.”
He hopes to help the current crop of U.S. players live up to higher-than-usual expectations next month at the Sochi Games.
“We have a chance, especially after a little bit of a transition period a few years back, to really make a name for ourselves,” Kane said.
Kane was taken No. 1 overall in the 2007 NHL draft by Chicago. He became a transcendent athlete, though, for unwanted reasons twice in recent years.
Kane was arrested after an altercation with a cab driver in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., in the summer of 2009. A few years later, Internet photos popped up of him partying in Madison, Wis.
He still enjoys having a good time, but might be settling down a bit with a girlfriend, who plans to cheer him on in Russia along one of his sisters and their mother.
“There’s a lot of things I’ve learned in the past few years – for sure,” Kane acknowledged.
With skates on his feet and a stick in his hand, Kane is arguably playing better than ever in his seven-year NHL career.
He is more patient with the puck, dangling it to set up a shot for teammates or himself, and it is paying off. The winger leads the defending champion Blackhawks with 59 points and he ranks among NHL leaders with 24 goals despite a recent drought.
“Four years ago, he was a big part of the team and I’m sure he will be even more important because he’s playing well enough to be a strong candidate for MVP of the league,” Nashville Predators and U.S. general manager David Poile said. “He’s a game-breaker who can change the game on each and every shift he’s on the ice.”
At the Vancouver Games, Kane scored twice in 2 minutes against Finland goalie Miikka Kiprusoff in a rout that lifted the Americans into the semifinals. Later that year, he had the game-winning goal in Game 6 against Philadelphia to help the Blackhawks win their first Stanley Cup since 1961.
Kane ranked third in the NHL with six goals that won games during last year’s lockout-shortened season. He then had nine goals and 10 assists in the 2013 playoffs as Chicago won another championship, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs.
“The skill and his ability is clear,” Pittsburgh Penguins and U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said. “His ability to bring it in the big times and come through with that skill, he’s shown it. He’s shown it last year and he’s showing it again this year in a way that he’s never showed it before with what he’s bringing.”
Kane, who snapped an 11-game streak without a goal Thursday night, had a career-high 14-game run with at least a point from Nov. 30 to Dec. 28 after a 12-game stretch with at least one point from Nov. 3 to Nov. 24.
“I’m very happy about where I am at in my career, but at the same time, you never want to be satisfied,” he said. “You want to keep winning and keep having that taste of success in your mouth because there’s no better feeling. I’m sure that if you could accomplish that with your country, it would be pretty unreal.”