BUFFALO -- Patrick Kane's return home is always an event in Buffalo, and on Sunday morning doors opened early for the star winger's first appearance at First Niagara Center since 2010.
A few hundred fans looked on during Chicago's morning practice before Sunday night's contest, many sporting Kane jerseys and shirts or Blackhawks hats.
"I've never seen that many people at a morning skate," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Kane was the main attraction for fans, some of whom even cheered when he one-timed a shot into the net during 2-on-1 drills. Quirks of the NHL schedule have kept Kane's Blackhawks from playing in his hometown the last two seasons, but Kane has played well against his childhood team.
"It's good to be back," Kane said. "It's probably one of the first things I look for when the schedule comes out, if we're playing Buffalo and where the game's at."
Kane, who spoke to reporters for six minutes after practice, has played seven games against the Sabres in his career, but just three in Buffalo. He has two goals and an assist in his hometown and said he's looking forward to playing in Buffalo once a year moving forward.
"I grew up loving the Sabres," Kane told reporters after practice on Sunday afternoon. "It's cool for me to come back because you go out on the ice and practice with players and you're running into the same road equipment guys that are here from when I was six and seven years old asking for sticks and pucks."
Kane's post-skate meeting with the press drew drew a crowd of cameramen and reporters that engulfed the lockers of teammates Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Ben Smith. Shaw joked that Kane was standing at his locker and he still couldn't see him. Kane, who was actually sitting, said he met with family and friends last night and many will be in the stands on Sunday night.
Kane has 27 goals and 65 points in 63 games this season, but just two assists in four games since the Olympic break. Quenneville said he hopes the dynamic winger handles the puck more against the struggling Sabres to spark his game. He'll hear lots of cheers from the Buffalo crowd if he manages to score.
"I expect him to be excited about tonight," Quenneville said. "We'll see how much we play him, but we'll get him out there."
Corey Crawford will start in net for Chicago, and defenseman David Runblad will to play his first game with the Blackhawks after being acquired from Phoenix at the trade deadline last Wednesday. He's expected to skate on the blue line with Nick Leddy.