Patrick Kane honoured at Budweiser Gardens

Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks takes a shot on the Calgary Flames net in a game played on February 6, 2018.
Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks takes a shot on the Calgary Flames net in a game played on February 6, 2018. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Those who are good at something can do it well at its highest level.

Those who are truly great at something can do it in a way that has never been seen before.

On January 17, 2020 the number 88 worn by Patrick Kane when he played for the London Knights joined all of the other numbers worn by all of the other Knights greats that hang in the rafters at Budweiser Gardens.

When Patrick Kane stepped onto the ice for the first time in a London Knights uniform, fans noticed right away that there was something different about him. When he entered into the offensive zone with the puck, it was as if he was stepping onto some invisible path that had been cut out of the ice. Kane would glide along hardly moving his feet until he spotted a teammate he could set up or until that invisible path led him right to the opposing net.

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Neither option ever ended well for the other team.

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“Mark Hunter came back from seeing him one time when [Kane] was with the U.S. development program and said, ‘this guy is going to be special,'” said Jim McKellar, former Knights’ assistant general manager and Chicago Blackhawks’ amateur scout. “Every time he touched the puck, he put on a show. … We were considering taking him in the first round but he wasn’t interested in coming [to the OHL] at that time or he would have been part of maybe a couple more amazing seasons.”

The Knights selected Kane in the fifth round of the 2004 OHL Priority Selection and he arrived in London in 2006-07.

That year saw Kane amaze over and over again. He had seven hat tricks. He scored overtime winners. He led the Ontario Hockey League in scoring with 62 goals and 145 points in 58 games. Kane had the attention of the hockey world and when it came time to make the first selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, he left the Chicago Blackhawks with an easy decision to make.

“When he came to London we told him that he was going to get a lot of exposure,” says McKellar. “I think at that point he was rated in the second or third round.”

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Chicago picked Kane first overall and three seasons later they ended a 47-year Stanley Cup championship drought and then kept on winning, capturing the Cup in 2013 and 2015 as well.

After winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie in 2008, Kane’s next major feat was one of the most unique.

In 2010, he scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal and was the only person watching to know the puck was in the net. It happened in overtime against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6. Kane made a move on the left side of the Philadelphia zone and darted to the net. He snapped a low shot at Flyers’ goalie Michael Leighton and it slipped under the protective padding that lines the bottom of the net and disappeared. Kane knew that it was in and began to celebrate by throwing off his helmet and his gloves. He had made it past centre ice headed toward his own end by the time his teammates realized what was happening and poured off the Blackhawks bench.

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“I know I was on the bench and I didn’t want to throw my [gloves and helmet] off. I didn’t know whether the puck was under the goalie’s pad or where it was,” chuckles former teammate Dave Bolland. “Eventually a few of us started to come over the boards but we still had our equipment on but he knew it was in the back of the net. What a moment.”

Bolland had the rare opportunity to watch Kane during games and trying to defend him in practice.

“He sees the ice differently from a lot of other players,” says Bolland. “He has the best hands in the league. I think he’s the best player in the league. The way he sees the ice, the way he passes, the way he shoots. He’s going to have that number 88 retired in another place as well.”

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McKellar sees another unique trait in Kane’s play. Something that makes him extremely dangerous on the ice.

“He does something that very few players will do,” points out McKellar. “His skill set with his patience with the puck and his stickhandling. If you watch him closely he will handle the puck really close to his feet and he will get really close to you but you won’t be able to take it from him. Only a small percentage of players in the world have that ability.”

Both McKellar and Bolland see Kane’s future in exactly the same way as well.

“He’s like a fine wine,” laughs Bolland. “He keeps getting better with age.”

“He really is getting better,” says McKellar. “He is 31 right now and he plays the same way he did when he was 24 or 25. It’s amazing.”

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READ MORE: Mom thanks Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane for giving her son ‘amazing memory he’ll never forget’

When the kid from Buffalo, N.Y., who was born in 1988 and drafted by the Knights with the 88th overall selection, looks up at his number 88 on Friday night, he will see a major stepping stone in his superstar career.

At that moment, he was two points away from 1,000 career points in the National Hockey League. He was 49 games away from 1,000 games played.

Kane will pass those milestones and who knows how many more.

He is one of the best players to play the game of hockey. He is one of the best players to ever play for the London Knights.

Retiring his number recognizes Patrick Kane as one of the true greats.