SOUTH BEND, Ind. — John McDonough whiffed on one question after another, Patrick Kane was ineffective in a limited role despite a surprise start, Stan Bowman was virtually invisible and Joel Quenneville could only sit helplessly as the Blackhawks lost the opening press conference of the 2015-16 season, about 47-1, Thursday at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
Kane opened the scoring with a rare substantive point when he virtually proclaimed his innocence in the offseason legal matter — a police investigation involving Kane — that led to the tension-filled, awkward and uncomfortable press conference to open Hawks training camp on the Notre Dame campus.
“While I have too much respect for the legal process to comment on an ongoing matter, I am confident that once all the facts are brought to light, I will be absolved of having done [anything] wrong,” Kane said.
Other than that, the Hawks struggled against an onslaught of questions that dealt with the only subject that really mattered: Why was Patrick Kane here? What does his presence at training camp say about McDonough’s confidence that Kane will be absolved of any wrongdoing? And will Kane’s participation be a distraction to the team and a target for women’s groups in light of the accusations against Kane?
“I’m really not at liberty to comment,” McDonough, the Hawks president, said. “This is an ongoing legal process. Out of respect to that, that is something we can address at another time.”
For McDonough, this was a day for mission statements, celebrating the team’s third Stanley Cup in six seasons and talking about the great job he and his staff have done hiring — and then responding to criticism by saying, “I can assure you that I am anything but tone deaf.” McDonough would not even touch a question about his reaction to the Kane news when it broke — using the “ongoing investigation” as an umbrella as wide as the roof of the United Center.
“I think we’re going to stay consistent here, out of respect for the legal process,” McDonough said. “We’re just not in that position right now. There will be a time and place to address all that. But it’s not going to be today.”
The only real message of the day was an unspoken one: the Hawks aren’t worried about losing the press conference as long as they can still win the Stanley Cup. This day will pass. The Kane situation will be settled one way or the other and the Hawks will do what they do best: bounce back from this embarrassing loss and play hockey.
Whether Kane should even be at training camp didn’t sound like much of an issue for the Blackhawks. Distractions? Hah. As we should know by now, there are no distractions in hockey, where the Hawks’ locker room is hermetically sealed from discord. Last season, it only seemed to fuel their match toward the Stanley Cup.
So with the Kane situation simmering and hanging over the organization like a dark cloud — to us, anyway — how did Quenneville counsel his players about dealing with the controversy?
“We had a normal meeting last night,” Quenneville said. “We addressed how we always go into training camp. We went over rules. We went over the scheduling. We went over roles coming into training camp and the coming season. That’s what we talked about.”
McDonough later allowed himself a moment of reflection on the Kane affair. “I will say this hasn’t been an easy situation for any of us to deal with,” he said. “It’s been a challenging summer. This has weighed on all of us. We’re doing the best we can within the framework or what we can talk about today.”
Their best wasn’t good enough on a day that demanded more answers than we got — even considering the “ongoing investigation.” Kane should not have been subject to a question-and-answer session if he couldn’t address even tangential subjects (Are you going to stop drinking? “I appreciate the question,” Kane said. “I wish I could answer those questions right now, but there is a legal matter going on that I can’t answer that.”).
And on and on it went. It was a tough day for the organization. But it was only one loss.
And now, it’s on to hockey.