CRESTWOOD, Ill. -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is already an NHL veteran after seven seasons and he will soon enter his late 20s, but being around hockey still has a way of making him feel like a kid.
Kane especially felt that way Monday as he, along with Gatorade, unveiled a renovated locker room at Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood, Ill. to 13- and 14-year-old players on the St. Jude Knights.
“I think the main thing for me is to come back and see the kids’ faces and see how excited they are,” Kane said. “Just walking in here and seeing them excited. It’s a special day for me just to come back and try to give back any way I can to the kids. St. Jude has a lot of hockey history and a lot of respect.
”[I remember from my childhood] it's just kind of surreal when you do meet a pro athlete that it’s actually happening. You look up to them like your role models and idols and probably something more than you probably should. It’s still exciting nonetheless, especially for young kids. Probably hits the heart most for me working with young kids whether they play hockey or not. It’s just exciting to see their faces and see their reaction when someone like yourself comes by and tries to give them any input or intake on how to help with anything. It’s special for me."
Kane spent time with the players and answered a variety of questions. He also asked them questions about themselves and their team. When he spotted the team’s captain, Kane said, “Are you keeping them in line? Good. Just like Tazer [Jonathan Toews.]”
Kane joked he had some butterflies before meeting the players.
“I was nervous," Kane said. "I was joking what if I walk in and they don’t know who I am. When I did walk in, they were pretty excited and probably in shock a pro athlete was here just to present something for them. I probably would have had more success with the figure skating team out there because when I was walking by I heard a few screams.”
The 25-year-old Kane felt as if it wasn’t that long ago he was also a teenager with hockey dreams.
“Time flies,” Kane said. “I feel like I was one of these kids yesterday. Trying to work as hard as I could to get as far as I could in the game of hockey, but at the same time having fun doing it. It was my childhood growing up. That’s pretty much what I did -- play hockey.
“If there’s 365 days in the year, I was probably on the ice 350 of them, maybe multiple times a day. That was what I loved doing growing up. I don’t know if it was because I was good at it or I enjoyed scoring goals. It was fun for me growing up. Looking at these kids today, I could see kind of the same look I had on my face when I played.”
Kane’s desire to play hockey wherever and whenever was apparent when he recently suited up and played in recreation league game in his hometown of Buffalo. Kane scored five goals and dished out five assists to help the Piranhas defeat Essex St. Pub, 13-5.
“When I go back home, it’s exciting for me and my buddies to play hockey,” Kane said. “It’s something we do for fun. By no means if we’re playing a game like that, do you think it’s going to get out to the media or you think it’s going to be a big story or anything like that. You’re just going to have fun. That’s exactly what we were doing.
“I love the game. I love playing it whether it’s in the NHL or in a little men’s league during the summer. It’s obviously not all the same, but it’s still the game of hockey. You can enjoy that way.”
His Buffalo buddies and his family keep Kane down-to-earth despite his fame and money, which in the 2015-16 season will begin to include an eight-year, $84-million contract extension.
“If I don’t [stay grounded] my parents will, my sister will or my buddies back home,” Kane said. “They’re pretty good at it. It’s something I don’t think about it. It’s obviously an honor to have a contract like that given to you from an amazing organization like the Blackhawks, but I have always maintained the same notion that I’m just a kid having fun playing hockey. That’s what I love to do. I’m lucky I get to do it for a job.”