BUFFALO, N.Y. — Patrick Kane’s favorite place to eat in his old South Buffalo neighborhood seems almost as much shrine to the local boy-turned-NHL superstar as it is pizzeria.
Five signed Kane jerseys and other autographed memorabilia blanket line not just all the walls in the front of Imperial Pizza, a few blocks from where his parents still live. With all the wall space taken, there are also tributes to Kane on the pizzeria’s ceiling.
The display features #88 Blackhawks jerseys of every color — including a green one that’s affixed overhead and signed, “Happy St. Pat’s Day” — and Kane’s USA Olympic gear. In addition to his autograph, the three-time Stanley Cup champion scrawled such personalized tributes as “world’s best pizza” and “thanks for all the support and great slices — ‘jus’ cheese.’”
The tributes appear sincere. After the first two Kane-fueled championships, Imperial Pizza was among the places where Kane brought the Stanley Cup during his one-day turn at sharing the Cup with family, friends and fans in his hometown.
Neighbors in the middle-class section of this rust-belt city recall how Kane let them eat buffalo chicken wings from the Cup at Imperial Pizza, down the street from the rink where he honed his hockey skills as a child.
The scene was much more subdued Saturday, when the Blackhawks had scheduled Kane’s day with the Cup in celebration of the team’s most recent triumph.
Rather than take the Cup around the city and publicly bask in the glory — as he had done in 2010 and 2013 — the festivities Saturday were limited to a private gathering of a few dozen family members and friends at Kane’s lakeside mansion in the Buffalo suburb of Hamburg.
The reason for what one Blackhawks source described as a more “low key” party here the third time around was news that police are investigating allegations of an incident involving a woman last weekend at Kane’s house.
The police chief of Hamburg publicly acknowledged the probe Friday but cautioned that more information — much less a resolution — would not be known immediately. “At this time, we are gathering information and awaiting forensic test results,” Hamburg Police Chief Gregory Wickett said.
Employees at Imperial Pizza said they had expected another visit from the Cup on Saturday, before Kane and the Cup were to continue on to the next stop at a children’s hospital.
But all scheduled appearances were called off, and the Cup did not make a return to Imperial Pizza. “We were ready for it,” one glum employee said Saturday afternoon.
Also nixed were plans to make a stop late Saturday at Skybar, a rooftop nightclub in downtown Buffalo where Kane was spotted on the night of the alleged incident.
Instead, the Cup was displayed in the backyard of Kane’s nearly 6,000-square-foot house in Hamburg, at the top of a hill overlooking Lake Erie, according to a neighbor.
“It’s pretty quiet, like a family barbecue, with kids running around,” the neighbor said, adding that Kane’s relatives had removed signs posted in front of the house by protesters.
Back in the heavily Irish South Buffalo neighborhood where Kane grew up, near a striking marble Catholic basilica with a copper dome, neighbors down the block from his childhood home discussed Kane’s roots and his new troubles on Friday.
“The Kanes, they’re nice people,” said Mary Ann Voorhees, fondly remembering Kane’s grandfather, who also lived down the street.
She said her family’s exchange student from Japan rented an upstairs apartment from the Kanes when he returned to attend college.
“He’s young, has a lot of money and there are people who will try to take advantage of him,” said Voorhees’ husband, David, of Kane.
“That doesn’t mean he didn’t take advantage of anybody,” Mary Ann Voorhees replied.
She concluded that she’s “sorry for Pat either way” the investigation ends up.
“If he didn’t do something wrong, I’m sorry for him,” she said. “If he did, then I’m sure justice will take care of itself.”
Criminal defense lawyers in Buffalo echoed Hamburg police in warning the investigation could take some time.
Analysis of forensic evidence could take as long as two months, and authorities would be especially cautious since the case involves a high-profile person, said veteran Buffalo defense lawyer Dominic Saraceno.
“They could be looking at it for months before deciding whether to bring charges against him or not,” Saraceno said.
He said the county prosecutor who handles such cases is fair and the lawyer who represented Kane after his 2009 arrest for punching a Buffalo cabdriver is “the Johnnie Cochran of Buffalo.”
Kane has not been charged. But if the case results in charges and goes to trial, Saraceno said, his defense could benefit from the notion that “celebrities and pro athletes often are put in positions by people whose sole purpose is to extort money from them.”
Kane’s behavior late last Saturday also likely will come under scrutiny. He has a well-known penchant for partying in Chicago as well as Buffalo, and his socializing last Saturday inspired a flurry of social-media reports from a variety of places across the metro area.
At a downtown Italian restaurant where Kane spent part of last Saturday evening, the waiter who served Kane declined to comment.
“Sorry, no one’s going to talk,” a hostess said.
Contributing: Mark Lazerus