Blackhawks star Patrick Kane has put his bad-boy image behind him, becoming one of the game's most reliable players.
Professional sports are littered with athletes that seemed to have the world in the palm of their hand, but let it slip through their fingers because they couldn't handle the money and fame.
As amazing a hockey player as young Patrick Kane was right from the get-go when he joined the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007 as an 18-year-old, he exhibited signs of potentially joining that infamous club. Better to burn out than rust?
The baby-faced Buffalo native led the Blackhawks in scoring in his rookie season and it was no surprise he was named the NHL's rookie of the year. That was one year after he was named the Ontario Hockey League's rookie of the year with the London Knights.
This kid was quite obviously special.
Special and yet troubled. For as amazing as he was on the ice, he was still very young, with an endless supply of celebrity and money.
In his idle time, Kane made some bad -- probably alcohol-fuelled -- decisions. A run-in with a Buffalo cabbie at 5 a.m. in 2009 instantly put him in the bad-boy category. Kane was arrested, but got off with a slap on the wrist.
Shirtless photos with a couple of young ladies in the back of a limo, as well as viral pics of him doing some apparently booze-soaked partying at a Cinco de Mayo celebration with 20-something companions only added to his decomposing image. There are some terribly embarrassing photos of Kane still available if you search on Google.
To an outsider, Kane seemed to be spiraling out of control, and many wondered if his youthful escapades might ultimately get the better of him.
Better and better
And yet, on the ice Kane excelled. He got better and better. You couldn't possibly do that if you were completely off the rails.
Not only that, he possessed an innocent quality that suggested his sensitive nature would ultimately win out over his immature and misguided behavior. Can anybody ever forget his emotional interview with the media when his first NHL coach, Denis Savard, was fired?
There have been no reports of naughty behavior for quite some time now. And his play with the Blackhawks has continued to soar.
Perhaps Kane's saving grace was being associated with one of the greatest hockey families of all-time -- the Bowmans. Stan Bowman, the general manager of the Blackhawks, brought Kane into his home when he turned pro. Stanley (yes, he was named after the Cup) was not yet the team's GM, but he was a rising star in management and the son of hockey's greatest-ever coach, Scotty Bowman.
"He lived with Stan his first year and I wasn't there a lot, but I got to see him away from the rink," Scotty Bowman told me. "When Stan was going through his chemotherapy treatments, they told Pat they didn't expect him to stay there, but he wanted to stay and help.
"That was when he was 20 and he spent a lot of time with Stan's two young boys. He was like a big brother to them. I knew he had a lot of family ties. I think that he realized eventually that with cameras and cell phones he had to be more aware of his surroundings and how he carried himself in public."
I spoke with Scotty Bowman earlier this season about Kane's emergence as a leader and more stable and mature individual. Sure, Kane scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Blackhawks in 2010, but even that monumental feat was no indication of the direction his life was taking away from the rink.
"He's older now and I think he has realized that things are always magnified," Bowman said. "Hockey has always been his No. 1 love."
Someone to cheer for
That love was taken away from Kane for a while late this season, courtesy of a knee injury, but there he was in Chicago's first game of the playoffs, giving his team a 3-2 lead at 18:24 of a wild five-goal first period against the St. Louis Blues, who eventually won in the third overtime.
He took a long stretch pass from his dynamic-duo partner Jonathan Toews and slipped a back-hander five-hole through the legs of Blues goalie Ryan Miller. Looked like he'd never been away.
You know, when Scotty Bowman is in your corner, you can't be all that bad. Bowman has been around way too long to blow smoke, so when he says he likes a kid, there is merit in his proclamation.
"This year he is really having a year," Bowman said. "Toews, [Patrick] Sharp and [Marian] Hossa are really great players, but Pat doesn't have any of them on his line. Those four are above the rest, but Pat has done a great job playing with young players. He's shooting more this year. When he gets the puck something is going to happen."
A young man who many were probably prepared to write off as a spoiled brat is suddenly someone to cheer for.
Remarkably, Kane is just 25 years old. So much accomplished, so much more still to come.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.
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