WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Buffalo Sabres winger Evander Kane tried to say returning to the MTS Centre for Sunday’s matchup with the Winnipeg Jets will be “just another game.” Kane, in fact, said it multiple times while facing a phalanx of reporters and television cameras after practice Saturday.
The atmosphere in the Great White North belies his outward indifference.
While the temperature here Saturday was an ungodly minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit, the chatter about the return of Kane was white-hot. The front page of the Winnipeg Sun had a picture of Kane with a giant headline that said “I’ve moved on” and a smaller picture of a fan in a Jets’ jersey with duct tape over Kane’s nameplate on a No. 9 Winnipeg sweater.
Inside the tabloid was a two-page spread on Kane from an interview done Friday morning in Chicago by Sun writer Ken Wiebe. There are rumors fans may wear track suits, in a sort of mocking homage to the widely celebrated locker room dispute about Kane’s attire that saw him ultimately get traded to Buffalo last February.
There are also darker rumors about chants the normally raucous crowd may hurl at Kane in the wake of the ongoing police investigation taking place in Buffalo about an incident early on the morning of Dec. 27 in the HarborCenter Marriott. No charges have been filed.
“It’s an afternoon game so it’s a little bit different that way,” Kane said of Sunday’s 3 p.m. Eastern time start. “I’m going into it preparing as if we’re playing any other team in the league. We’re on a six-game slide here so I’m looking for two points.
“It’s a place I used to play in and a team I used to play for. I play for the Buffalo Sabres now and I look at it as business as usual.”
As for what Kane anticipates from the crowd, he said, “I don’t know. I guess we’ll all find out together.”
Kane met a couple dozen media members some 30 minutes after practice wearing a suit jacket, leather shoes and an open-collared shirt. He spoke in calm, measured tones in a clear effort to try to defuse the circus atmosphere likely to surround his return.
There will be old matchups all over the ice Sunday in the wake of the February blockbuster trade, with Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian meeting the Jets for the first time and the former Buffalo first-round draft trio of Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford and Joel Armia slated to be in the Winnipeg lineup.
It’s clear, however, this game is mostly about Kane.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma, in fact, said they discussed the matchup the first time they met in June after Bylsma was hired as coach.
“He’s going to have some emotion and he’s going to be revved up for this game and to play his old team,” Bylsma said. “I don’t know if you can calm that down. I think he’s going to want to come in here and have something to prove.”
“I don’t know what people are going to do and not going to do. I’m just excited to be back and play the game,” Bogosian said. “I think it will be a cool experience. One of the coolest things was when we moved from Atlanta to Winnipeg and how loud the building was. I’m sure tomorrow might be just as loud.”
Kane spent six seasons in the organization, the first two in Atlanta before the Thrashers moved here for the 2011-12 season. He posted career highs of 30 goals and 57 points that year.
But Kane soon started to push for a trade out of Winnipeg and ran afoul of teammates in the dressing room. Dustin Byfuglien reportedly had some of the loudest objections to Kane wearing a track suit to a team meeting in Vancouver 11 months ago, while Kane said on an Internet interview in the fall he’d most like to fight Jets captain Andrew Ladd or winger Blake Wheeler more than any players in the league.
“He’s always been pretty good at causing a reaction,” Wheeler said here Saturday. “I’m trying to do everything I can, no different than I have for 40 games already this season, to help our team win every night. Fighting hasn’t entered that equation yet this year. I don’t anticipate doing that tomorrow. I’ll dictate when my gloves come off.”
Kane wouldn’t revisit those comments, refusing to indicate if he was joking or serious.
“I guess you can take it whatever way you want it,” Kane said. “It’s up for you guys to determine.”
Kane said he harbored no bitterness toward Winnipeg fans in the wake of his exit.
And while Kane said he is enjoying his time in Buffalo, things haven’t been enjoyable on the ice lately.
The Sabres are one point out of last place in the NHL’s overall standing, and Kane has just eight goals and five assists in 31 games. In fact, he has just two goals in the last 15 games and no points at all in the last six.
Buffalo players had a post-practice meeting Saturday and Kane revealed there’s been a lot of group-think in the wake of Friday’s 3-1 loss in Chicago. The Sabres are just 15-22-4 at the halfway point of the season and players were noticeably grumpy on the ice during practice.
“I have a fresh mindset going into the second half,” Kane said. “We need to get better as a team and that starts with individual play. I don’t think anybody is accepting of where we are as a group and where we are in the standings. Sometimes it’s good to get a little ticked off with how things are going. I think we can use that energy to our advantage to hopefully get us over the hump here.”