ST. LOUIS — Patrick Kane was halfway through answering a generic question about his ninth career All-Star weekend appearance Thursday when the booing started.
At first, it wasn’t too loud, and Kane carried on unperturbed. But 10 seconds later, when the NHL Fan Fair announcer enthusiastically announced Kane’s name to the crowd, it intensified to a deafening roar of disapproval.
Kane just laughed.
“I think they’re booing me back there,” he said, cutting off his own sentence about the Blackhawks’ practices next week in Arizona. “I don’t think they like me too much in St. Louis.”
The Hawks have only Kane representing them at this year’s All-Star festivities (considering they had five players in 2015 in Columbus, that’s a very low number), but Kane alone seems to be attracting five players’ worth of attention, both positive and negative.
He leads the All-Star pack by a wide margin in terms of All-Star appearances, Stanley Cup rings and career points — and he’s only a few days removed from celebrating 1,000 in that last category.
That has made him the No. 1 guy to watch this weekend — and not just for Hawks fans.
On Thursday, Kane recalled his excitement about playing with Joe Thornton at his first All-Star Game in 2009 and his awe about working out one-on-one with Pavel Datsyuk before the 2012 game. Now, many first-time All-Stars (and there are a lot this year) are having the same reaction about playing with Kane.
“There’s a lot of young talent in the NHL and a lot of guys I like to watch playing and that I recognize are really good players,” Kane said. “So it’s fun to meet them and talk to them and just talk about your seasons and your team and what’s going on around the league.”
Kane was also one of just 10 players chosen to participate in the new Gatorade NHL Shooting Stars event, in which players shot at targets on the rink from a platform above the lower bowl of the arena, and ultimately won the event (albeit with some fishy scoring decisions) in a tiebreaker over the Blues’ Ryan O’Reilly and Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner.
Kane’s victory in the most anticipated and discussed part of Friday’s All-Star Skills Competition, although he said afterward he would’ve preferred to compete in a more old-school event, was yet another indication of his special status here.
Even the booing he’s received at every turn is evidence of that. At least, that’s how Kane sees it.
“You kind of view it as, obviously it’s somewhat a sign of hatred, but somewhat a sign of respect, too,” he said.
Thursday’s incident triggered a memory of Kane attending a Flyers-Sabres game in his hometown of Buffalo during the heyday of Flyers legend Eric Lindros’ career.
“I remember me and my dad, we went to watch the Flyers, and Sabres fans were booing Lindros the whole game,” Kane said. “I think he got kicked out with like 10 minutes left in the game or something. And then the game was no fun anymore, because there was no one left to boo or watch.”
(Consulting the record books, Kane was presumably referring to a game in December 1998, shortly after he turned 11. His hockey memory is usually near-encyclopedic, so perhaps his young age at the time explains one small flaw in his story: Lindros was actually ejected at the end of the first period, far earlier than recalled.)
Two decades later, Kane has become the Lindros equivalent in St. Louis and many of the Hawks’ other division-rival cities.
Sure enough, when he took the ice first among the Western Conference All-Stars on Friday, another hearty round of boos rang throughout the crowd of more than 18,000 at Enterprise Center.
The Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon, second in the line, took his time getting onto the ice to ensure Kane experienced a full lap under the antagonism. It eventually took the emergence of Ryan O’Reilly — one of four Blues players participating this year — to fully stop the razzing.
But Kane, his slicked-back curly locks on display with the NHL’s helmet requirement briefly lifted, simply smiled.
“It’s fun when you play in Nashville or Winnipeg or places like that, and you hold onto the puck and they’re booing you and you want to hold onto it longer,” he said. “[Duncan Keith] gets booed in Vancouver, which is always pretty funny to see him up his game a little bit and hold onto the puck as well. It’s somewhat a sign of respect.”
Note: Kendall Coyne Schofield, who grew up in Chicago’s southwest suburbs, participated in the skills competition for the second year in a row — along with 19 other women’s hockey players, a record high number. Coyne Schofield’s American team lost 2-1 in a 3-on-3 game against a team of top Canadians. The event was considered an important moment for the relationship between the NHL and women’s hockey.
“Thank you to the NHL for once again, for the third year in a row, incorporating women in the NHL All-Star Weekend,” Coyne Schofield said beforehand. “We’re excited to showcase the women’s game.”