It's all smiles for Patrick Kane as he looks into the stands before a game.
"It's funny, when you're skating around during warm-ups, I'll see signs that say things like: 'Kane, Prom?'" Kane says with a laugh. "We have a fun, young team, and girls are asking you to the prom and giving you their numbers. It's pretty fun, especially when a good-looking woman comes up to you. You can enjoy it a little bit, that's for sure.
"It's a long way from when I was in high school. Nobody wanted to go to the prom with me. It's payback now."
But hooking up the digits isn't the only thing making Kane's nights brighter. The Blackhawks star and big-time gamer has just been signed by EA Sports as the cover athlete for the upcoming video game "NHL 10."
This makes Kane the youngest player to ever be on the cover and only the second American to have his mug on the box.
"It's pretty amazing. I've been playing this game since I was 10 years old," says Kane. "I remember playing the game with Lindros on the cover, and for someone who has been playing games this long, being on the cover is really special. One of the things about this, nobody can ever take this away from me. My buddies still play this game, so it's pretty amazing that I will be able to play them at a game that I'm actually on the cover of."
Here's what else Kane has to say about everything from fighting to face-washing to the rise of the Blackhawks.
ESPN: "NHL 10" introduces first-person fighting into the game. What do you think of the big fists flying at your face?
Patrick Kane: The fighting is amazing, the way you're looking right at the guy. It's pretty much the same as real life where if you get hit, you're dizzy. There's a lot of realistic things about this game, from the puck play along the boards to the way you can get momentum in the game through a fight or a big hit, to the way the fans are banging on the glass, I've never seen anything like this in a video game before. I was actually just playing a game against John Tavares and I scored as myself on a breakaway. There were so many cameras around, it actually got in my head a bit. I was more nervous playing a video game in front of cameras than I get playing my profession.
ESPN: Did you try to face-wash him to start a fight?
Kane: I was trying to get myself into a fight in the game, but when I was face-washing the guy and sticking him, my enforcer came in and took the fight for me. Every time I tried to fight as my guy, I just couldn't get going.
ESPN: Is that how you prefer the fights in real life? Let the enforcer step in?
Kane: Every time. I wouldn't be face-washing anyone in real life. I'd be skating to the bench real fast to get away. [Laughs] Just kidding.
ESPN: How do you react when someone tries to face-wash you in real life?
Kane: You never want to be embarrassed. I remember one time this year, [Johan] Franzen of the Red Wings came up, and it's actually pretty cool how on the cover they show me with my mouthpiece hanging out of my mouth, which is one of my trademarks, but at that time, I had the mouthpiece hanging out of my mouth and he came up to me, took the mouthpiece out of my mouth and threw it on the ice. [Laughs] I didn't really have a chance to do anything because I was so shocked at what happened, but it's one of those things where you want to come out and make a big play or help your team to kind of defend yourself. I couldn't believe it happened, though. It was just one of those crazy things.
ESPN: What was it like in Chicago this year as you guys brought winning hockey back to the city?
I was trying to get myself into a fight in the game, but when I was face-washing the guy and sticking him, my enforcer came in and took the fight for me. Every time I tried to fight as my guy, I just couldn't get going.
”-- Patrick Kane
Kane: I remember this year in preseason, we were having more fans than we did all of last season. It's fun times again as hockey is back in Chicago. Now everywhere we go we're getting noticed, we're getting noticed on the streets, and it's fun to be a part of. It's even more fun to be a part of when you saw the times when the fans weren't really into it to now, where you're selling out every game and leading the league in attendance. It's a big time for hockey in Chicago, and it's great for the Blackhawks' organization. They had a lot to do with it from the marketing to how well the team has played to pretty much all of the attention we get around the city.
ESPN: The NHL had an amazing season with the continued rise of the younger stars like yourself, Ovechkin, Crosby, and Malkin. Do you see this young nucleus of players as the league's chance to really bounce back in terms of mainstream popularity?
Kane: Absolutely. I think when you look around the league, you see these young kids coming in and they're really giving personality to the game. Throughout their interviews, you're seeing guys start to be more outgoing and trying to be funny. I think that's why you see league's like the NBA and the NFL sell. You have guys like Randy Moss and T.O. and they go out and say stupid stuff, but then that gets them more publicity and people want to go out and watch them play. That's the good thing about a guy like Ovechkin, and I try to throw some stuff out there myself. Just get more involved in the media to help bring the ratings up. I think we're on the right track. We have a lot of good young players that people want to watch, and we have a lot of really entertaining players that people want to watch, too.
ESPN: Did you think you'd find so much success so early?
Kane: That's what you want to do coming in, but you never really know how it's going to play out. For me, I was really lucky to go to a city like Chicago where the team was struggling at the time, and I was able to go in and play right away. That was a big thing for me and a big thing for any young player because if you're able to play a lot of minutes at a young age, you can get adjusted to the league. That's what helped me a lot. I'm grateful for that, I'm grateful for the city I'm in, and pretty much everything that has happened throughout my career so far.
ESPN: One of the cool things about "NHL 10" is the EA Sports Hockey League where gamers can go online and create their own players, trying out different positions on the ice. If you could create your own player and try out a new position, what would you like to play?
Kane: It would be a little different to be a goalie. People are shooting at you all the time, which is the opposite of what I'm usually trying to do as an offensive player. I'd like to see that side of it. What's cool is that when I was a kid, I always created myself, but now that I'm actually in the game, I don't need to create myself anymore.
ESPN: I like to create my guy with scars, black eyes and a mullet.
Kane: I kind of had a mullet at the beginning of the year but then I cut it pretty short. I think my guy has short hair in the game, but maybe next year I'll bring the mullet back. If not, I'll create a guy with a mullet in the game.
ESPN: You just played some "NHL 10." Besides your game, what are you playing these days?
Kane: I have a PS3 and a PSP. For PS3 I pretty much stick to the big sports franchises like "Madden," "Tiger Woods," "NBA Live" and "NHL." But for PSP, we play the "SOCOM" game as a team on the plane, and it's pretty cool because you can connect to everyone. Besides, trying to kill all your teammates is always fun.