The Chicago Blackhawks annually take a long road trip because the circus moves into the United Center for a couple of weeks in November. It looks like they’re about to embark on another circus trip called training camp.
The eyes of the hockey world will be on South Bend, Ind., starting Thursday when the Hawks gather at Notre Dame to open defense of their Stanley Cup championship. That’s because of Wednesday’s announcement that embattled South Buffalo native Patrick Kane is on the camp roster and will skate when the Hawks hit the ice Friday morning at the university’s Compton Family Arena.
Kane has been under investigation by Hamburg police for an alleged sexual assault in his home on Aug. 2. The case had been scheduled to go to a grand jury but those proceedings have been delayed. The three-time Cup champion, 26, has made no public statements about the situation and has not been charged.
The Hawks have announced they will stage a news conference Thursday afternoon with President John McDonough, General Manager and Canisius High grad Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville, and it will be the first time that trio has been made available to reporters to discuss Kane. The team said players will also speak but there is no indication if Kane will be one of them. Media from both the United States and Canada are expected to attend.
Practices will be held on the Notre Dame campus Friday, Saturday and Sunday and they’re all open to the public. The Blackhawks are then scheduled to stage their annual Training Camp Festival scrimmage Monday night in the United Center in front of a crowd of more than 10,000. They open the preseason at home Tuesday night against Detroit.
There’s not likely to be much visible dissent about Kane’s presence at camp, as Chicago fans have mostly supported him over the last month on social media. Kane’s No. 88 jersey is the top seller in the league, and Kane and Chicago captain Jonathan Toews will be entering the first season of their eight-year, $84-million contract extensions signed in July 2014. Their $10.5 million salary cap hits make them the highest-paid players in the league.
The current predicament, however, has certainly cost Kane endorsement dollars and likely potential opportunities. EA Sports dropped Kane from the cover of its new NHL 16 video game and opted to simply use Toews alone as its cover athlete.
Kane was not invited to last week’s NHL Media Tour in Toronto, nor was he present the next day at the gala unveiling of the field and format of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. The former U.S. Olympian figures to be one of the faces of Team USA for the event next September.
Multiple reports out of Chicago have characterized McDonough and Hawks chairman Rocky Wirtz as outraged by Kane’s latest brush with the law and public embarrassment. He was arrested in Buffalo in 2009 for assault of a city cab driver and was admonished by the team in 2012 after clearly being intoxicated in photos posted to social media after a party at the University of Wisconsin. The latest alleged incident took place after Kane had spent several hours at SkyBar, a downtown Buffalo nightclub.
Speaking last week to ESPNChicago.com, agent Pat Brisson said he was confident Kane would be exonerated in this case.
“I totally believe” Kane, Brisson said. “He’s always been honest with me. I’ve known him for a long time. I’ve been doing this a long time as a sports agent. You get to know people and get to know the character of an individual. Spending more time with Patrick over this situation, I do believe he is innocent.”
Brisson said the investigation has taken its toll on Kane, who has been seen by some Hamburg neighbors working out around his home. Kane did not play this summer in the Fattey Hockey League, the pickup circuit held at HarborCenter that often features area pros.
“It’s been difficult, to say the least,” Brisson said. “Basically when you spend more time in your house than outside and you can’t really go to the rink like you have your normal life, it’s been difficult. It’s been hard. At the same time, I know he’s looking forward to this being over with.”
The Hawks will have quite a different team than the one that beat Tampa Bay in June to win the Stanley Cup for the third time in six years. Salary cap issues because of the Kane/Toews contracts forced Bowman to trade the likes of Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad, while veterans such as Johnny Oduya, Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette all left in free agency.
Despite the Kane situation and all the roster changes Chicago has endured since June, online bookmaker Bovada lists the Hawks as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup at 13-2. The Sabres are at 100-1, with only 150-1 Arizona listed worse.