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Monday, August 17, 2009
Now, Kane's character will be tested

By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

WOODRIDGE, Ill. -- By now, most folks have heard about Patrick Kane's early-morning escapades in Buffalo, N.Y., last week, when the Chicago Blackhawks star forward and his cousin apparently scrapped with a 62-year-old cabbie who apparently locked them in his cab fearing they were college kids going to bolt without paying the $13.80 fare. The Kanes allegedly responded with a physical assault of some kind, and charges were laid against them.

In the interim, both sides have insisted the incident was overblown and that -- heh, heh -- boys will be boys. Presumably, the fact that Kane is a boy with a big bank account will help smooth things over with the cab driver, Jan Radecki, who has his own legal issues.

Hard to imagine that Kane, one of Buffalo's favored sons who recently joined the mayor of the city in trumpeting funding initiatives for local arenas, will receive anything more than a slap on the wrist; in fact, it's possible the charges will end up being simple misdemeanors or dropped altogether. (A grand jury is expected to decide later this week; the Kanes have pleaded not guilty.)

When the lawyers get through with this incident, we'll pretty much be left with impressions and perceptions.

On Monday, Kane spoke publicly for the first time about the incident as he prepared to take the ice with the rest of the U.S. Olympic hopefuls at a three-day orientation camp in suburban Chicago.

His prepared statement was brief and included an apology to his family as well as fans in Buffalo and Chicago. He took no questions and will not answer questions about the incident during the camp.

As tepid as the statement might have been, one gets the feeling that this moment marks a player at a crossroads.

Buffalo News columnist Bucky Gleason wrote after the arrest that he had heard from a variety of sources in the Buffalo area that Kane was living too large, that he had become far too full of himself far too fast. We'd heard the same whispers, but, like Gleason, always had enjoyed our interactions with Kane since he came into the NHL.

He is a dynamic young man who has become an integral part of a dramatic renaissance in Chicago.

So, what do we have? Jealousy in what is a small hockey town? Or a player who forgot where he came from and ended up in the news pages thanks to an egregious lack of judgment?

Kane referred briefly to living a dream of not just being an NHL player but also having the opportunity to represent his country at the Vancouver Olympics in February. That dream has now been stained, and only time will tell whether the stain will be indelible.

Kane is blessed with fine representation -- he belongs to Pat Brisson and the CAA Sports group, which represents players with fine pedigrees, such as Kane's teammate and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby. (Both will attend Canada's Olympic orientation camp next week in Calgary.) It also represents Erik Johnson, who is here in Woodridge at the U.S. camp, and John Tavares, the top pick in this past June's draft.

Things happen. We know that. But hands up for anyone who can imagine Crosby or Toews ever appearing in a news story alleging he ganged up on an elderly cab driver over a handful of change?

No one? Didn't think so. And we'd bet the farm it wouldn't happen.

That Kane has allowed this to happen to him now forces him to work exceptionally hard to prove the doubters and skeptics wrong. He will have to work hard to prove to Team USA general manager Brian Burke that he hasn't turned into a punk who thinks his status as a pro hockey player allows him to forget his upbringing, his values and his place.

Burke is a man who is big on things like character and loyalty and humility. None of those qualities seems to have been in evidence during Kane's alleged skirmish with Radecki, regardless of how the altercation started.

Burke insisted Monday this incident will have no impact on whether Kane will be part of the U.S. team.

"Wrong place, wrong time," Burke said Monday after Kane read his statement.

When he was Kane's age, "I did a couple of things I wouldn't want to talk about up here," Burke said.

Fair enough, but Burke didn't end up on a police blotter. Kane did, and now his character will be tested, as it should.

You also can take to the bank that Chicago Blackhawks president John McDonough and the rest of the Hawks' front office, including new GM Stan Bowman, with whom Kane lived during his rookie season, will be watching very closely to see whether this is a bump in the road or a young man off the rails.

The Blackhawks have been one of the feel-good stories of the sporting world during the past couple of years, rising like Lazarus from the hockey crypt. McDonough et al have done yeoman service in rebuilding relationships with their fans. Incidents like this are a blow to that good work.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also will be watching closely to see how the courts deal with this situation. Regardless, he can't be amused.

Remember, Sean Avery was suspended six games for making an off-color comment about Dion Phaneuf and a former girlfriend (well, that, and for being pretty much a jerk for a long time before that); so where do Kane's actions sit on the pantheon of misdeeds?

We hear athletes say the same things ad nauseam when they get into trouble -- that this is a wake-up call; they regret the embarrassment they've caused their teammates and family and communities. Blah, blah, blah.

The funny thing is, we're used to hearing athletes in other sports do that kind of talking. The NHL has enjoyed, relatively speaking, life in a vacuum when it comes to these kinds of unpleasant situations.

But Kane has provided a sobering reminder that the league is not immune to acts of foolishness.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.