Growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., Kane was more skilled than his peers and often tried to demonstrate that by taking the puck from one end of the ice to the other, weaving through defenders and ultimately scoring without ever acknowledging that he had teammates around him.
That was Kane’s game until one of his coaches finally had enough of his selfish play. The coach gave Kane an ultimatum – pass or sit. Kane, who was almost a teenager, decided the coach was bluffing.
Kane was wrong.
“I remember I went down the full length of the ice and scored a goal and sat on the bench the rest of the period,” Kane recalled. “I think from that moment on I tried to improve my vision and passing ability.”
A little more than a decade later, Kane’s vision and passing have come a long way. He’s been among the league leaders in assists since he came into the NHL and often has distributed those passes with a bit of style.
Kane’s creativity and passing skills have been on full display against the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference quarterfinals. He has three assists in two games and has helped the Blackhawks to a 2-0 series advantage.
In Game 1, Kane skated down the middle of the ice with the puck, then extended his arms slightly as he got near the goal, allowing him just enough room to pass the puck to his left from his backhand. The puck skidded by two Wild defenders and connected perfectly with Marian Hossa as he was charging from the left side. Hossa received the puck in stride and quickly struck it into the net.
In Game 2, Kane set up Patrick Sharp for a goal with an even bigger highlight pass. Kane had the puck in the left circle and was looking to shoot it, but a defender knocked his stick and his shooting opportunity was lost. He turned to his right with his back to the net and regained control of the puck.
With two defenders blocking him from going back to his left and another defender approaching from the right, Kane quickly spun to his right and delivered a no-look pass to Sharp that Magic Johnson would have been proud of. Everyone, expect Kane and Sharp, was surprised by the move, and Sharp was left an open net to score.
“He loves making that pass,” Sharp said. “He passed on his forehand. I thought he was coming back on his backhand, but once he didn’t shoot it right away, I knew he was looking to make a pass. He’s found me on that back side a few times over the past few years.
“Just give him the puck in those areas and good things happen. I know I got the goal, but it was a heck of a pass.”
Kane still often reverts to his youth and prefers to score, but there are some passes, such as the one to Sharp, when the thrill of the assist can be thrilling. Kane had a backhanded no-look pass to Hossa in an overtime win over the Dallas Stars in January that also would fall in that category.
“Yeah, it’s a good feeling,” Kane said. “Sometimes, you set up a guy for a play like that, it’s almost a better feeling than scoring a goal sometimes.”
Kane’s stick skills are considered to be among the elite in the league. It’s an ability his teammate Bryan Bickell is often in awe of and even occasionally attempts to emulate.
“I haven’t played with too many skilled guys like him,” Bickell said. “He’s got the hands that he could stick handle his way out of a phone booth with. He pulls things that [I can only] dream about in games, and it’s fun to watch.
“I try to do them in practice. It usually doesn’t work out and I embarrass myself, so I keep it out of my game.”
Kane can make the easy pass, too, but he knows the fans enjoy the more complicated ones and he doesn’t mind showing off his a talent a bit.
“I think that’s what the fans like -- pretty plays,” Kane said. “Sometimes it’s nice to do those things.”
Plus, his old youth coach would be proud.