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In disappointing situation, Evander Kane meets things head-on

Evander Kane has met things head-on from the day he arrived in Buffalo in February. Nothing changed Monday.

Kane rehabbed feverishly to come back from shoulder surgery that ended last season, and from an October knee injury, to become a power forward the Sabres needed. He’s also skillfully reshaped his image to try to move on from the disastrous climax to his career in Winnipeg, which had turned him into a pariah in the eyes of many around the NHL.

Since the start of training camp, I’ve been waiting for the Evil Ogre of Manitoba to arrive. It hasn’t happened. Kane has been a solid representative for the Sabres franchise, a strong newcomer on the community scene among Buffalo athletes and a consummate professional when dealing with the media.

So it was stunning and disappointing when the news came out Sunday that Kane is involved in a sexual assault investigation stemming from an alleged incident at the HarborCenter Marriott downtown, where the Vancouver native is living this season. It’s a major setback for the 24-year-old, particularly at a time when the city is ultra-sensitive to such matters in the wake of the Patrick Kane affair.

Evander Kane played in his normal spot on a line with Jack Eichel and Tyler Ennis in Monday’s 2-0 loss to the white-hot Washington Capitals in First Niagara Center. And played well too. He spent the day trying to go about business as normal, but there was no way to ignore the situation. Staying silent would have been the easy road here. Instead, the Sabres and Kane did the right thing.

After the skate, Kane quickly met reporters and made every word count in 22 very direct seconds of speaking. The highlights: “I just want to say I’ve done nothing wrong. I look forward to clearing my name. I respect the legal process and unfortunately at this time there’s not much more I can talk about.”

Kane then walked away. Fair enough. There would be questioners every day until he said something. And saying he’s done “nothing wrong” was pretty definitive.

A grim-faced coach Dan Bylsma didn’t have much more to offer, other than confirming Kane spoke to the team Monday morning but declining to discuss what was said.

“It stays within the room,” said captain Brian Gionta. “It’s a serious accusation, but at the same time that’s what it is at this point in time until things change. He’s our teammate.”

Bylsma admitted he was worried how Evander Kane’s focus would be on the ice, but Kane did just fine. He played 20 minutes, 20 seconds in the game, had four shots on goal and seven attempts. Added three hits. He was fully engaged. There were no issues. Even did a full interview with the media postgame.

“I enjoy playing hockey. I enjoy being around the rink, around the guys and playing in this league,” Kane said. “I don’t take that lightly.”

Bylsma admitted the fears he had were unfounded.

“I think he was eager to get on the ice and be with his team and play with his team tonight,” the coach said. “And I think it showed.”

Kane came closest of any Sabres player to solving Caps goalie Braden Holtby, but was robbed by a highlight-reel glove save on a stuff attempt with 59 seconds left with Holtby seemingly down and out in the crease.

“Usually when I get it up over his pad, it goes in, but he made a great save,” he said. “I haven’t been robbed like that in a while.”

Overall, the day was a pretty solid job of damage control by the Sabres. It wasn’t the circus the Chicago Blackhawks created when Patrick Kane spoke on the opening day of training camp in September at Notre Dame.

That day, Patrick Kane fumbled through a prepared statement that read as if he actually had committed a crime and then foolishly said “I appreciate the question” to a multitude of inquiries. It got to the point where the whole thing became a parody reminiscent of Marshawn Lynch’s Super Bowl media sessions. Then Hawks president John McDonough issued a tone-deaf statement simply moving on from his star’s situation and throwing opening-of-the-season platitudes across his organization. Bizarre.

There were no such embarrassments for Evander Kane or the Sabres on Monday. Sexual assault is obviously a serious allegation, and the rink may have to serve as his oasis for the immediate future. Determining charges in these situations is not a quick process, as everyone in Western New York has learned the last three months.

Should Evander Kane have a seat while he waits? That seems like a slippery slope. There’s another game Wednesday in Washington, a New Year’s Eve game here against the New York Islanders, a Saturday matinee here against Detroit.

Where do you draw the line? What if the team makes him sit for, say, a month and then no charges are filed? If the time comes where an actual charge is placed, that would be an entirely different story.

For now, keeping him in the Buffalo lineup seems reasonable. Less certain is how he goes forward with his community initiatives.

Evander Kane has become a fixture with the Boys & Girls Club of Buffalo, taking several dozen kids to dinner and a trip to the Dave and Buster’s arcade at the Walden Galleria last month. A week before Christmas, he took a group of 50 to dinner at Chef’s and then boarded a bus to the Target in Cheektowaga, where he presented each child with a $200 gift card and was congratulated by Mayor Byron W. Brown.

That trip was featured on the MSG pregame show prior to Saturday’s game in Boston, just hours before the alleged incident is said to have taken place. Kane has made trips to Women & Children’s Hospital and to Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Earlier this month, he sent a handwritten note and autographed memorabilia to a 14-year-old Williamsville girl who plays hockey but was headed to New York City for cancer surgery.

He told The News last week he found Buffalo a very welcoming place, feels good about the community and simply wanted to give back.

Now, there are months worth of good feelings here suddenly jeopardized in one night. It’s a shame.