- Melissa Isaacson, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- As sports scandals go, Patrick Kane's suddenly seems very small and a very long time ago.
It wasn't, of course. Not for him and not for the Blackhawks. Not for the city of Buffalo, either, nor for the cab driver who said he was assaulted by Kane and his cousin this past summer. And not for Kane's Wikipedia page, which expanded to include a category called "assault and theft charges" that explains that although the Blackhawks star and his cousin were cleared of any felony charges, they pleaded guilty to noncriminal disorderly conduct and were ordered to apologize to the cabbie.
But that was five months and several other people's scandals ago. Kane has weathered the episode incredibly well, in large part because, although he never went public with his side of the story, he was contrite and apologetic and promised to learn from what had happened. At 20 years old (he turned 21 in November), he also had a reputation as a good kid, came across as sincere and, oh yes, was extraordinarily talented.
That helped in Chicago, although it's also a curse when you want to disappear and doesn't always wash outside the city limits.
"I got a lot of support, but there's going to be your haters out there, too," Kane said Thursday before the Hawks boarded a plane for Kane's hometown and his second game against the Sabres as a pro after a heroic welcome back his rookie year.
"You're going to have to deal with it, obviously. Whatever city you go to, you're probably going to hear a few things from what happened, but that's just the nature of what happened this summer and it's something you'll have to deal with a long time. That's fine. I'm just going there to play hockey. That's all you can really do."
Kane is not afraid to mention "what happened this summer," actually sprinkling it into his conversation every now and then without being asked and never behaving defensively.
Unlike other stars of currently controversial vintage, Kane has been advised well and admits there was something of a strategy involved in dealing with the aftermath.
"A little bit," he said. "Different things, whether it's trying not to bring it up as much as I can, or if questions are brought up, you can't get mad. People are going to want to know different information about the story. I think so far it's been really good. For a [while] there, there wasn't really any talk about it, and obviously because I'm going back to Buffalo, people are going to bring it back up.
"But I think so far it's been really good. I'll probably have to deal with it there and then after that, try to move on again."
He said he doesn't know what to expect at HSBC Arena on Friday night, although veteran Buffalo columnist and longtime Kane chronicler Bucky Gleason of The Buffalo News has a theory.
"[Kane] was one of the things that could make Buffalo proud," Gleason said. "Through all the Super Bowl and Stanley Cups, teams here never won a championship. They will cling to anything that makes the city look better and Patrick Kane made the city look better and in the end, he made the city look bad and that doesn't go over big.
"If he was offended by the reaction of some of the people here, they were more offended and it needs to be somewhat of a repair job."
Both Kane and Gleason expect a mixture of boos and cheers.
"The people booing him will just want to get it out," Gleason said, "and then they'll move on."
That's the best Kane can hope for, and the best his team can hope for for him.
"He apologized to everybody and did what he was supposed to do, and there was nobody who felt worse than him for what he put himself through, his family through, the Blackhawks through and even the city of Buffalo and western New York," said Hawks teammate and former Sabre Brian Campbell. "Patrick owned up to it, and if that's the only thing that happens in his life, then I think a lot of us can forgive him for whatever, and he can forgive himself."
Coach Joel Quenneville said he has noticed Kane's maturity this season.
"He got the message," the Blackhawks' coach said.
Kane said he agrees.
"Things like that help you grow up faster," he said. "It could be one of those things where you try to take a positive from a negative situation. Maybe you'd rather have it happen sooner rather than later where you try to learn quicker. As far as being a kid and being a hockey player, when I'm on the ice, I'm out there to play hockey, and when I'm in the locker room, I'm sure you guys think I'm still the same kid at heart. I still feel like I'm the same kid, but probably just a little bit more mature in different situations."
And what has he learned?
"You've got to realize you're under the microscope and with that comes responsibility," he said. "As far as everything I do, even walking down the street or going to dinner, you try to treat everything like it's going to be publicized. I think it's helped me grow up a bit."
And if there is residual anger at or frustration with any of the "hate," Kane seems to be keeping it in perspective.
"Obviously, it hurts a little bit, but at the same time, it's expected, you've got to move on," he said. "You know what it really makes me realize? The things people are going through now what was going on with Michael Vick and Rick Pitino, people think everything they said wasn't true or they're just making up stories. Well, there's obviously a true story to everything.
"You could kind of see with Pitino. Everyone told him to be quiet but he went on with national media and kind of had an outburst. That's kind of what I wanted to do. Not in that sense, but maybe just say my story. But at the end of the day, it's probably better to just stay quiet and kind of let it unfold and let the story pass by."
Unfortunately for Kane, the story will never pass by entirely. But it is certainly getting easier. And Kane's observation of the Tiger Woods controversy has been illuminating.
"I feel bad for the guy," he said. "His is obviously a little bit worse than my situation, but as far as feelings go, I know exactly how he's feeling where you feel like you're going to wake up from a bad dream and it's just going to be over but you just never wake up. It's crazy.
"For a little while, I'd just show up at the gym and try to let out all of my anger and aggravation on the weights or whatever it was. After that, it was pretty much just hanging around with my family, laying low at my house. You think, 'What's the best time to be able to see my friend again?' and all that stuff."
Kane's therapy, not surprisingly, was his craft.
"When you go out there and play hockey, it really makes you feel relieved and it's really fun," he said. "Once you leave the rink, it's back to reality. But it really helps in that sense for sure, and it's probably still helping."
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist at ESPNChicago.com.