WINNIPEG — We like our hockey players humble, us Canadians.
Score one, and you’d better not celebrate too hard. Score 40, and we have come to expect a lot of talk about how great your linemates were, and some praise for the organization and coach for giving you the chance.
Act like you’ve been there before.
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So perhaps that’s where the disconnect began between Evander Kane and Winnipeg. He never fit the mould. And it’s got nothing to do with the colour of his skin. If a white kid hemmed and hawed the way Kane has so many times, when offered a chance to show allegiance to the city, the fan base would bite back just as hard.
If Blake Wheeler poked the nest by retweeting his own trade rumours out of town, the rumours would circulate around him. Kane is his own man though. He couldn’t care less what people think.
“Why do those other leagues have more success in terms of marketing their players? Their personalities?” he asks. “Hockey is the sport that I love, but it’s also the entertainment business. The ice is a stage. When I’m in front of the cameras it’s a stage. Fans come to the building to be entertained. They read the newspapers to be entertained. They listen to the radio to be entertained. If you are mindful of that, maybe me winning money in Las Vegas and being excited about it — like anyone else would — isn’t the worst thing in the world.
“There is that (humble) reputation in hockey,” he admits. “But I think now you’re starting to see some diversity in personalities. The way social media is now … just the spotlight being on you so much. I think it’s going to benefit everybody.”
If “everybody” doesn’t include all the people here who cringe every time they hear Kane is making another headline, then perhaps he is right. At 23 he is a genuine first-line left-winger, an absolutely chiseled stud at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds.
Said his coach Paul Maurice: “He practices really hard, he’s in great shape. He asks advanced questions beyond the basics of the system. He’s wired into what’s going on in games. He stands up a lot on the bench because he wants to get back out there. His recovery is just spectacular…”
The young man is all hockey player. He should own this town. But every time they open their heart to him he puts them on call waiting. It’s as if there is another NHL city on the other line talking to Kane’s heart, 24-7.
Jets fans are jilted, and the rumours start. The unsubstantiated stuff that would mean nothing as a one-off. But it’s not been just a one off. They’ve dogged him through his time here.
“I am the same guy who was creating the headlines, but a lot of that was common sense,” an unrepentant Kane said on Wednesday. “Do I really run out on restaurant bills? Let’s use our common sense. Probably not. That is what was shocking for me. The lack of common sense.
“It’s something that made me stronger mentally, which is good. I definitely have learned a couple of things along the way, that’s for sure.”
“You’ve grown up?” is the obvious question.
“Oh yeah, I’ve grown up. But I look at the things that have created headlines. Do I regret those things? Probably not. I don’t see anything wrong with them to this day.”
Linemate Blake Wheeler was recently quoted saying, “He’s coming to the stage of his career where he’s no longer a young guy. He needs to step up and be a leader on our team.”
That shouldn’t be a controversial quote. It is, in fact, a fact.
So Maurice has established a No. 1 line of Kane with Wheeler and emerging star centre Mark Scheifele. “That could be as good as any No. 1 line in the league,” a scout told us Wednesday at the MTS Centre. “Look at the size of those guys.”
Just as it is time for Kane to take that step in his maturity process, so too has this organization reached the same milepost, after seven years out of the playoffs dating back to their years as the Atlanta Thrashers. There are some very good players here, and the chronically patient GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has plenty more on the way.
“There is no excuse why we can’t make the playoffs, and why we can’t do anything in the playoffs,” Kane says.
None of this will work, however, if the guy who is the best player doesn’t buy in. No pilot instills confidence in the passengers when he’s wearing a parachute all the time. Kane has to be all in, or nobody else is going to be all in. Why would they?
So we close by asking the obvious question. Give the kid a chance to prove the haters wrong.
“Are you happy here?” A simple yes would have sufficed.
“I love playing in front of the fans. There’s no better feeling than when they’re cheering for you after a goal, and when they’re cheering for you after a win.”
He wouldn’t say it.