Winning Hockey Gold Would Just Put Exclamation Point On Young Blackhawk’s Experience.
Having snowboarder Shaun White call to hang out made Patrick Kane feel like a cool dude. Rubbing shoulders with good-luck charm Vince Vaughn in a Team USA jersey left an impression. And nothing created a more lasting memory for Kane than eating lunch alongside boyhood hero Jaromir Jagr of the Czech team in the Olympic Village cafeteria.
But as he reflected on the significance of the biggest hockey game of his life when Team USA plays Canada in Sunday's Olympic final, no personal interaction meant more than the one Kane initiated Saturday.
"I hadn't talked to my grandpa (Donald Kane) in a while, so I called him this morning in Buffalo to see how he's doing and how he's liking the games,'' Kane told the Tribune in an interview Saturday. "He's 83, a big baseball guy, but one of those people I've always looked up to. You get this close to the gold, you really do start to think about people who have supported you. My grandpa, my parents, my sisters … you want to thank them for sacrificing so much to get me here.''
He is 60 minutes away from being the youngest player on only the third U.S. hockey team to win gold, NBC's dream matchup that could replace the 1980 "Miracle on Ice'' as the highest-rated hockey game ever. Here is marketing nirvana for the Blackhawks with Kane going against teammates Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook of Team Canada, all of whom will share a chartered flight to New York at 10 a.m. Monday to prepare for Tuesday night's game against the Islanders.
Here is a moment in Olympic history that finds Kane unwittingly at the center of some delicious drama after his two-goal outburst in 2:23 on Friday against Finland.
After Canada beat Slovakia 3-2 later to advance to the final, someone mentioned to Canadian goaltender Roberto Luongo that Kane was looking forward to facing him. When they met May 11 in a Hawks-Canucks playoff game in which Kane scored three goals in four shots to send the Hawks into the Western Conference finals with a 7-5 victory.
In the memory of many Hawks fans, that's also filed away as The Game That Made Luongo Cry.
"If he has a book (on me), good for him," Luongo snapped to reporters Friday night when Kane was brought up.
Asked Saturday his thoughts about Luongo's reaction, Kane chuckled over the phone. Just as Kane believed his pregame comments that Finland goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff didn't respond well to traffic in front of the net were misinterpreted as trash talk, he figured something about his take on Luongo was lost in translation.
"I've had some success on (Luongo), but at the same time he's a goalie you're not going to beat too many times one-on-one,'' Kane said. "He's great. The biggest thing is to get traffic on him like any other goalie and shoot for rebounds because he'll kick the puck out wide to the boards. If you get a guy going wide and shoot off his pads, you have a chance.''
Quietly, Kane and his teammates always believed Team USA had a chance to play for the gold, even if many experts predicted a Canada-Russia final. Chris Chelios, on leave from the Wolves to watch Team USA in Vancouver, thinks that confidence has helped the Americans go 5-0 almost as much as goaltender Ryan Miller.
"The U.S. team has that swagger and they're fearless,'' said Chelios, a four-time Olympian. "They're very quiet, and ‘young' may be the best word to describe them. This is a humble group.''
Kane didn't need to be humbled, but Team USA general manager Brian Burke publicly challenging unnamed players to start delivering results to match their reputations sounded familiar. The voice inside Kane's head was saying the same thing.
"I came in here to score goals and produce points, and through the first four games, I wasn't living up to that as much as I'd like,'' Kane said. "It wasn't Brian Burke needing to say it. I felt personally that I had to get to another level, and I thought (Friday) I did.''
He also came close to getting into his first fight when Finnish forward Olli Jokinen jabbed Kane with his stick and put him in a headlock during a scrum.
"That was weird,'' Kane said. "He came after me after the whistle. It was like he was going to fight me so I couldn't play the gold medal game. I was like, ‘OK, I'm not going to fight you and miss that.' ''
No, the rare chance to win a gold medal for Team USA is what made Chelios, a multiple Stanley Cup winner, call Sunday's opportunity "bigger than the Stanley Cup because the whole country is watching you and you're representing the USA and not just a team.''
Caught up in the moment, Kane might not argue. But he would add that asking to choose whether winning a gold medal or the Cup means more to him is like asking his mom and dad to pick their favorite child.
"That's a tough question,'' he said. "Right now it seems bigger than the Stanley Cup, especially when you look at it. … How many times has the U.S. hockey team won gold?''
During the Canada-Slovakia semifinal, Kane's parents asked him which team he wanted to play. Instinctively, he said it didn't matter. The Kanes will forgive their son for fibbing.
"The way it probably should be is Canada-U.S., the two best teams," Kane said. "They beat us on our soil last time (2002 in Salt Lake City), so we can get them back on their soil this time.
"I can't even imagine dreaming up this experience, let alone having it come tomorrow. You take this moment very seriously.''
All of North America agrees.
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