SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Patrick Kane spoke here Thursday but, not surprisingly, was very thrifty with his words.
In his first public comments since the sexual assault investigation that has become a talking point in the hockey world, the Chicago Blackhawks star apologized for the situation that shrouded his team’s Stanley Cup summer as well as the start of its training camp at the University of Notre Dame.
The South Buffalo native read a 25-second statement that included his apology and the assertion that he would eventually be cleared of wrongdoing for the alleged incident that took place in his Hamburg home Aug. 2. He then spent most of a bizarre eight-minute give-and-take with reporters declining to answer questions but saying nine separate times that he appreciated the inquiries.
“This has been an incredibly difficult time for many people,” Kane said, reading his remarks. “I cannot apologize enough for the distraction this has caused my family, my teammates, this incredible organization and, of course, our fans. While I have too much respect for the legal process to comment on an ongoing matter, I am confident that once all the facts are brought to light, I will be absolved of having done nothing wrong.”
(Social media users quickly picked up on the double negative. The Blackhawks’ Twitter account, in fact, incorrectly changed the quote to say simply “I am confident I will be absolved.” It’s unclear whether the statement was written incorrectly for Kane or if he simply misread it.)
It was a surreal scene inside the auditorium of Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Arena. About 100 reporters, including representatives from USA Today and Canadian sports giant TSN, sat on four rows of risers with 16 television cameras taping the proceedings at the top of the room. The entire event was televised live across Canada on TSN, replayed coast-to-coast in the United States on ESPNews and was also shown live in both Chicago and Buffalo.
Kane, 26, sat at a table in the front of the room next to Blackhawks President John McDonough, General Manager and Canisius High School graduate Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville. He wore a black and gray hooded team sweatsuit with his No. 88 in front. Observers noted that Kane looked pale and drawn and that his trademark flowing hair was cropped, seeming appreciably thin on top.
A grim-faced McDonough also read a statement that said in part, “The Chicago Blackhawks organization prides itself on trying to make calculated and deliberate decisions based on information we have at the present time. We recognize that Patrick Kane is dealing with a very serious situation. Based on our discussions with his legal representatives, who are very close to this matter, we have decided to have Patrick join us for training camp.”
During the news conference, National Hockey League Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly reaffirmed that the league has deferred to the Hawks on the matter for the start of camp. “We have been in close contact with the Blackhawks’ organization over the last seven days,” he said in a statement first released to French network TVA Sports. “We are supportive of the organization’s decision.”
Kane and his teammates were on hand for physicals to start camp, returning to defend their third Stanley Cup title in six years. They take the ice for the first time here Friday morning. It’s the start of Kane’s eight-year, $84 million contract extension that’s tied with teammate Jonathan Toews for the biggest in the NHL.
Kane prefaced most answers to questions by telling the reporter involved that he “appreciated” the inquiry. The scenario quickly drew parallels to the infamous “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” answers that Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch repeatedly spouted last year on Super Bowl media day.
A sampling of the questions and Kane’s answers:
• Did you embarrass the organization? “I appreciate your question. I know there’s a lot of different things and a lot of different questions you guys have, but I have to stay confident in myself and the legal process.”
• How will fans respond? “I appreciate the question and appreciate where you’re coming from, but I can’t discuss too much legally at this time.”
• How close did you come to staying away from camp? “I appreciate the question. I know you guys have a lot of questions. I’d love to answer them, get in front of them to face them, but this just isn’t the right time to do it.”
• Are you going to stop drinking? “I appreciate the question. I wish I could answer those questions right now, but there is a legal matter going on. I can’t answer that.”
McDonough said: “This hasn’t been an easy situation for us to deal with. This has been a challenging summer. This has weighed on all of us. We’re doing the best we can from the framework of what we can talk about today.”
Kane has been pretty much invisible since The Buffalo News reported the investigation more than six weeks ago. While waiting to hear the results of a grand jury in the case, there have been virtually no sightings of him in his hometown other than neighbors noticing him doing outdoor workouts on the grounds of his home. That was one of the few topics he addressed.
“Throughout the summer, I did what I would do any other summer,” Kane said. “I worked out in my basement at home, followed the Blackhawks program they gave me. I feel like I’m in really good shape heading into camp, so I’m excited about that.”
Kane was then excused from the room, leaving the team’s leadership group to deflect questions. McDonough went on an eight-minute speech regarding the organization’s past laurels and future goals, then was defiant when asked if he was being tone-deaf to Kane’s situation by moving into hockey talk.
“I can assure you that I am anything but tone-deaf,” McDonough said.
Quenneville said the team had a normal precamp meeting Wednesday night and had no special discussion of Kane. Toews said the team is focused on keeping Kane’s mind on hockey.
“I think he’s excited to be here, back on the ice and be around his teammates in a familiar environment,” Toews said. “That’s what we can do, focus on his job.”
“I’m really happy to be here at Notre Dame,” Kane said. “It’s a great venue; so much history. And we’ve had some success coming here in the past. It seems like it’s worked. I pride myself on starting off the season on a good note, having a good camp, and I’m trying to use that to propel my way into the season.”