SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Off the ice, nothing is all that normal for the Chicago Blackhawks these days. But on it? Pretty much full speed ahead.
It was business as usual when the defending Stanley Cup champions staged scrimmages on their first day of training camp Friday at the University of Notre Dame. And that applies to embattled superstar Patrick Kane.
When Kane took the ice for warmups, the Compton Family Arena crowd of about 4,000 cheered the arrival of the South Buffalo native. There was a clear ovation for Kane again when his name was announced for assisting on a goal during the first of two scrimmages he took part in. It was the only point Kane had on the day.
In the early afternoon, Kane staged his second jam-packed news conference in two days. But it was much more casual than Thursday’s “I-appreciate-your-question” affair.
Standing in front of a Blackhawks backdrop in an arena hallway, Kane did not address the sexual assault investigation he’s dealing with that appears headed for an Erie County grand jury. But he was clearly more at ease with reporters when talking about hockey and his appreciation for Chicago fans.
“That’s a pretty cool reaction, especially given the circumstances,” Kane said. “You didn’t really know what to expect. I thought it was one of those things when you’re going on the ice you don’t know what’s going to happen. To hear that reaction from the crowd definitely gave me chills. It was an exciting moment.”
Kane said he wasn’t worried about the crowd booing. A look outside the building prior to the scrimmage gave an indication what the reaction would be.
Perhaps 1,000 fans were lined up, some who got there as early as 7:30 a.m., waiting for the doors to open at 9:30. The 5,022-seat facility has hosted the first weekend of Hawks’ camp each year since 2012, and regular observers said nothing was different other than a few more reporters on hand.
Fans were clearly in support of Kane – many wore jerseys sporting his No. 88 – but not all that interested in media inquiries.
A male accompanying a woman snapping pictures while dressed in a Kane jersey said, “You guys are the problem.”
Two other females wearing Kane jerseys were approached, with one responding, “We’re all waiting to see what’s going to happen and you should too.”
Kane, 26, said he spoke to his parents Thursday night after his widely panned news conference that answered few questions.
“I’m not going to lie, that it’s an awkward situation and can’t really answer anything,” Kane said. “You pretty much say the same thing for every question. Not that it’s something you want to do. It’s just the way it has to be right now. They understood the situation. They’ve been very supportive, obviously.
“My parents have been there since Day One, since I moved away when I was 13 years old to Detroit and wanted to come back after the first day, to up until now. They’ve been very supportive. It’s good to have that support from my mom, my dad, my sisters, my girlfriend, everyone.”
Kane said Friday was the first time he has skated since prior to the incident alleged to have taken place early in the morning of Aug. 2 in his Hamburg home.
“It’s good to get back on the ice,” he said. “I was a little rusty at first and even througout the day. It’s one of those things you want to get better every day, keep pushing until that Oct. 7 date when we start and try to peak then.”
“He was fine, he looked all right, had the puck a lot,” said coach Joel Quenneville. “When he has the puck on his stick, a lot of good things happen. I thought he was fine.”
Kane’s teammates had similar sentiments.
“He’s one of those guys who can be off the ice for a while and then when he goes out there it’s easy for him,” said captain Jonathan Toews. “For the rest of us, there’s some cluminess, missteps in passes, whatever. We expect that from him. We’re all trying to get to that level.”
“Everybody was happy and anxious to see him,” added star winger Marian Hossa of Slovakia. “For me being in Europe it wasn’t as busy as it was over here but I was happy to see him join us two days ago.”
The Hawks downplayed the notion Kane’s presence was a distraction. Kane was a part of their football watch party at dinner Thursday night. Normal business.
“Sat around, watched some football and just talked about life in itself with my teammates,” Kane said. “It was good to just talk to them about everything that’s not included in this situation. It was fun doing that, fun to be around teammates and I’m extremely happy to be here.”
Kane said there was no update on a resolution to his situation.
“It’s a situation you’ll take day by day and see what comes your way next,” he said. “There’s really no predictions or anything you can make here.”
Quenneville admitted he has met with Kane privately, something he does in advance of camp with every player.
“Sometimes it gets more personal with some guys than other guys,” the veteran coach said. “It’s just different situations that happen and you deal with them.”
Asked how the chat with Kane went, Quenneville said, “I’ve had a few conversations with Patrick.”