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The tears go by for maturing Patrick Kane

Updated: March 7, 2014 1:48PM

It’s always a little unnerving to see great athletes cry.

Why are they crying?

Who are they crying for?

What happened to the tough-guy shield they wear like a tortoise shell?

We witness for a disconcerting moment a lifted veil, and we see our heroes are human. Fallible. Wounded. Fragile. Sometimes weak.

Thus it was that, at first, no one knew how to respond when Blackhawks star Patrick Kane began openly crying over the loss of his grandfather, Donald Kane, on Monday night after a game in Los Angeles against the Kings.

Kane had pointed and looked upward after scoring his first goal in the Hawks’ 5-3 win, and a reporter asked about it later in the locker room. Was the gesture for his grandfather?

It was, indeed, Kane said. Then the tears began.

‘‘He was one of my, you know, good friends growing up . . .’’ Kane got out amid the tears. ‘‘Any time you get something taken away from you that’s so close to you, that meant so much to you . . . . It’s tough to hear that before a game.’’

He wiped his eyes, and yet the tears kept coming.

Donald Kane and his late wife, Patricia, lived next door to Patrick’s family in South Buffalo, N.Y., and Patrick talked about how the elder patriarch, who was 87 when he died Monday, and the boy ‘‘would do things like play cards and hang out by the pool throughout the summers.’’

Odd as it may sound, they were pals. Best buddies.

So you get nailed with news that this great friend died before a game you are paid a lot of money to play, with a team that depends on you, and you go ahead and play the game. Forget the two goals that draw you out of a mini-slump, or the win your high-octane team needs. Someone you love is gone forever.

So how do you process this?

Kane has been with the Blackhawks since 2007. He was 18 then; he’s 25 now. We have, by necessity, watched him grow up. Everybody knows hockey culture is macho to the max, with drinking and carousing and hangovers part of the deal. Imagine, this is a sport in which fighting is taken out of the bars and put on the ice.

So Kane went through the outrageous stuff, with limos and chicks and brew and whatever. I recall he once missed two practices because of what the team called the flu. Right.

In the summer of 2012, he went on a drunken bar crawl through Madison, Wis., wearing a ridiculous T-shirt that had a photo of him on it, drunk. It was a kind of rabbit hole of immaturity, with each successive photo collapsing in on a career maybe ready to detonate.

Then came his teary apology and response for the stupidity — golly, you think there are girls with iPhones everywhere to party with? — which had the ring of sincerity.

‘‘It’s still part of my maturation process and something I’m still trying to get better at,’’ he said, tearing up at the Blackhawks Convention last year. ‘‘And the biggest thing, it was embarrassing. That’s from deep within me.’’

Kane has said again and again how much his family back home means to him — his parents, sisters and, yes, now his deceased paternal grandparents.

The world is little more than loss, coming from the start, coming from everywhere. But on the ride there are victories and joys.

And the good feelings and the effort must come even as the sadness and loss does.

Kane is learning this. Maybe he knows it all now. Remember, after that tearful apology last year, Kane helped lead the Blackhawks to their second Stanley Cup championship in four years.

This is the young man who won the Calder Trophy as a rookie, who made the All-Star Game his second year, who became the youngest player in Blackhawks history to reach 200 points the next year, who scored the game-winning goal in the Blackhawks’ first Cup win in almost 50 years in 2011, who became only the second Hawk ever to reach 50 points in each of his first six seasons last year, and who should be just entering his prime.

After he cried Monday night, he valiantly and professionally went on to answer all questions about the Kings game, about teammates, etc., wiping his eyes and nose the entire time. Grandpa Kane was still with him, but life moved on.

So now come the Olympics in Sochi, and Kane will be heading there soon. First, though, there is the funeral mass at 9:30  a.m. Friday at St. Ambrose Church in Buffalo.

He’ll be there. If he cries, we’ll understand.

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