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Thursday, January 24, 2013
Coach: Kane benefited from overseas stint

By Scott Powers

Patrick Kane
EHC Biel coach Kevin Schläpfer believes Patrick Kane might have matured as a leader from playing in Switzerland.
EHC Biel coach Kevin Schläpfer may just take credit in Switzerland for Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane's hot start to the NHL season.

Schläpfer coached Kane for 20 games during the NHL lockout, and now Kane started his NHL season with two goals and three assists in three games.

"Maybe I can say he had a good start because of me," Schläpfer said laughing during a recent phone conversation from Switzerland. "I have nothing to do with that, though."

From a hockey standpoint, Schläpfer isn't sure if he taught Kane anything during Kane's nearly two months playing in the Swiss National League A. Kane arrived a gifted player and departed one in Schläpfer's eyes.

But where Schläpfer believes he and the EHC Biel organization may have helped Kane is with his fitness level leading up to the NHL season and, more importantly, his overall leadership ability.

"We only have five imports on a team," Schläpfer said. "It's important they have a big role. They have to lead the team. Patrick is still a young player, but I told him, 'You have to lead the guys. You have to talk to the guys. Every guy wants to talk to you.' "

It's a role Kane hasn't had to worry about with the Blackhawks. With Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa and other veterans surrounding Kane, the Hawks aren't lacking leadership.

Schläpfer understands what he was asking of Kane was outside his comfort zone.

"In Chicago, you have other superstars on his level," Schläpfer said. "Here, he's the only one. I think it was a little new to him. As time went on, he did more of that. He was really the leader not only as a hockey player, but as a person, too. I think he can take something from that."

Kane's off-the-ice behavior was just as important to ECH Biel. The organization was aware Kane made headlines for a public display of partying on a college campus prior to his signing in Switzerland last year and had pleaded guilty to a noncriminal charge of disorderly conduct in 2009 after an altercation with a Buffalo cab driver.

Schläpfer and EHC Biel sports director Martin Steinegger said they didn't have a problem with Kane in that respect.

"There may been a couple bad stories from back home, the taxi driver stuff, but that was totally not here," Schläpfer said. "He was very professional. He was really focused on hockey. I'm really impressed with him.

"The biggest thing for us was he was a good guy. That was special. He was a great guy, great character."

Steinegger believes Kane's time in Switzerland may have matured him as well.

"I think living in a different culture, lifestyle, that helps everyone grow and mature," Steinegger said. "I'm sure in 10 years he's going to speak of his time in Switzerland. Good or bad, something is going to stay in his head."

EHC Biel certainly isn't going to forget Kane. There are things Kane did on the ice they'll be talking about for years to come. He produced plenty during that short time with 13 goals and 10 assists.

"There was one game where we were playing Geneva, which at the time was leading the league in points by far, and we blasted them 7-2," Steinegger said. "He had two unbelievable assists in the game, really something special. I thought, 'How is that possible?' I went home and watched it a couple times. I was a player once too, and I was happy not to be playing again."

Seeing Kane up close for an extended period of time also reaffirmed a belief Schläpfer has held about him.

"His style, it's not like he skates like this player or that player," Schläpfer said. "Patrick Kane is Patrick Kane. It's the hands he has and the feeling for the game. Patrick is maybe on stick handling, feeling, the form, he's maybe the best in the world to be honest with you. I have never seen a player better than him, and I've seen many players in the NHL playoffs and world championships."

So when Kane now scores for the Blackhawks, he'll be cheered for in Chicago, his hometown of Buffalo and in Biel, Switzerland. Kane and Boston Bruins center Tyler Seguin, who also played for EHC Biel, left as fan favorites.

"Everybody is following him," Steinegger said of Kane. "I think everybody will be proud if he plays a great season. I see a lot of Blackhawks (apparel) for our games now. I think the people are first going to look at our results and then the NHL. Chicago and Boston are going to follow."