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Patrick Kane has rediscovered his first love

The man who comes to mind every time Patrick Kane shows up on the highlight reel while performing stupid-human tricks and leading the NHL in scoring is not, in fact, Patrick Kane. It’s not a family member or his buddies from South Buffalo or his teammates in Chicago or anyone he has insulted, alienated or offended.

It’s music legend Ray Charles.

See, there’s a scene in the 2004 box office hit “Ray” starring Jamie Foxx in which Charles, hooked on heroin and throwing his life away, was forced to face the sad, unfiltered truth. His wife pulled him aside and reminded him there was something he loved more than her, more than his kids, more than his mistresses on the road.

“It’s your music,” she said. “And if you keep usin’ that needle, they’re going to take away your music and put you in jail. Is that what you want?”

For Charles, it was always about the music. For Kane, it’s always about hockey. The two have little connection other than this: Both reached the top of their industries because they loved nothing more than their craft. The way Charles’ fingers danced across piano keys is the way Kane glides around the ice with the puck on his stick.

The romance the two artists shared with their callings is obvious from a distance. You need not know music or understand hockey to identify passion and genius. They didn’t play for money or fame. Both would have played in the streets because neither knew how to stop before seductions such as riches and fame led them astray.

Only after they were faced with the sobering possibility their one true love could be taken from them did they see through the haze. Only then were they forced to imagine life without their greatest source of self-worth and joy. Only then did they fully respect their gifts. Only then did they feel obligated to reach full potential.

Only then.

What you witnessed after thinking the absolute worst about Patrick Kane is the absolute best in Patrick Kane. The Blackhawks star is two games from becoming the first American to win an NHL scoring title. He appears a lock for the Hart Trophy as most valuable player, another American first.

Kane has 102 points with two games left in the regular season. He will be the only player in the league this season to reach the 100-point mark. He has a career-high 44 goals, three fewer than league-leader Alex Ovechkin. He’s third in the NHL with 58 assists, matching his career high.

He’s the first American to reach 100 points since Edmonton center Doug Weight had 104 points in 1995-96, when a dozen players hit the century mark. Jeremy Roenick was the last Blackhawk with 100 points, and that was 21 years ago. Chicago hasn’t had a 43-goal scorer since Tony Amonte in 1999-2000.

Kane has gone three games without a point only once this season. His longest streak without a goal has been five games, which happened three times. Each time, he came back with a flurry in the games that followed. Never in his nine-year career has he been so consistent, so focused, so committed. So good.

At age 27, he’s already taken his place among the best American players in history. Joe Mullen, Pat LaFontaine and Kane are the only U.S.-born players in NHL history who have played 650 games and averaged a point per game. Kane has 249 goals and 659 points in 656 career games with the Blackhawks.

His trophy case includes the Calder for rookie of the year, the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP, three Stanley Cups, a Cup-winning goal, a scoring title this year, the likelihood of the Hart Trophy and a silver medal in the Olympics. Already, and he has a strong argument for the Hall of Fame.

All season, he has brushed off the notion he was scared straight last summer after a woman accused him of rape. Perhaps there’s a degree of truth in his theory that it’s just hockey, that his success comes from strong chemistry on an experienced team. You don’t put up 40 goals and 100 points strictly because you’re motivated.

You also need skill.

But perhaps it’s also true that Kane himself isn’t quite sure how to explain why the apex of his career followed the lowest point in his life. It’s possible that Kane would rather keep his secrets rather than disrupt the fuel feeding the fire within. Rest assured, he has learned plenty about himself over the past eight-plus months.

The most plausible explanation, knowing what has made him tick since childhood, knowing people in his inner circle who never stopped supporting him, is that he rediscovered the beauty of hockey and fell more in love with the game than ever. He took his relationship with hockey to a deeper level and vowed to stay true. He made a promise to the game to never again allow something between them.

People can say whatever they wish about Patrick Kane. His critics see an immature and irresponsible party boy who can’t hold his booze. His supporters see a fun-loving, affable and gifted player. To me, it seems a combination of both. All would agree that he was born to play this game. That much cannot be disputed.

During those long, secluded days while awaiting the results of serious accusations against him, no matter how confident he was that his name would be cleared, even though there was no evidence of a horrific crime, or an accusation of a lesser crime, common sense suggests he experienced a moment of clarity.

That’s precisely what happened with Ray Charles, who changed his life after he came clean with himself. He became more devoted to his craft and made sweet music for decades. Here’s hoping Kane transforms much the same because, sometimes, you wonder if it’s his primary reason for living.

For everybody’s sake, here’s hoping for a happy ending.


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