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Patrick Kane has what it takes to be top U.S. star in Sochi

Fans cheer as USA's Patrick Kane (88) warms up before men's gold medal ice hockey game against CanadVancouver 2010 Olympics

Fans cheer as USA's Patrick Kane (88) warms up before the men's gold medal ice hockey game against Canada at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

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Can Kane lead U.S. to Sochi gold?




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Updated: February 22, 2014 6:36PM



SOCHI, Russia — For the United States, these are the Patrick Kane Winter Olympics.

That might be a bit frightening to those of you who still think of Kane as the immature, bare-chested party monster who never would say no to a night out. Times change, and people change. Or maybe some people don’t change, but they just get smarter about their nocturnal habits. Whatever the case, there’s no doubt Kane deserves to be the face of the Sochi Games for the United States. He’s that good and that exciting as an athlete.

He’s bigger than Shaun White, Bode Miller and Shani Davis, for the simple reason that he’s one of the biggest stars in a sport that happens to matter more than once every four years. Then again, he’ll be America’s favorite only until a U.S. female figure skater wins a gold medal, in which case the country will dump the Blackhawks star like one of the stuffed animals tossed at Gracie Gold’s feet.

But Kane is so unique in his skills, so electric with the puck, that eyes can’t help but follow him. NBC, always on the lookout for a hero, will be looking at him intently, quite possibly to the point of distraction.

He always has done well in these moments. He helped lead the United States to a silver medal in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Several months later, he scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in overtime for the Hawks. He put on another championship ring last season. Now comes Sochi.

‘‘I think you always want to prove yourself as a big-time player in big games,’’ he said Monday. ‘‘Another thing is just to try to prove yourself at these highest levels of hockey. These are great opportunities — opportunities that don’t come along often, if at all.’’

When it comes to hockey and flair, Kane is all American. If he were Canadian, you get the distinct feeling he’d be a little too flashy for the taste of our neighbors to the north. They like their idols to have a determined look to them, the way Hawks captain Jonathan Toews does — the way Toews probably does when he’s eating cotton candy, blowing soap bubbles or power-sleeping. Kane still has an impish look on his face, as though he knows he just got away with something.

But there will be weight on his 25-year-old shoulders.

‘‘I think there’s even more pressure on him this time around for that team, considering they made it to final game last time,’’ Toews said. ‘‘They’re going to be a tough team to beat, and he’s going to be right in the middle of it.’’

Kane isn’t a tough guy. He knows how to avoid a hit better than most players in the NHL. But he is as feared as anyone because he can make a defender look absolutely silly. It’s why defenders give him so much space when he has the puck: They don’t know what he’s going to do with it. They won’t in Sochi, either. He should be helped by the bigger Olympic surface and an international game that puts a premium on puck movement.

If you had the pleasure of watching the gold-medal game between the United States and Canada in the 2010 Games, then you know what drama combined with hockey excellence looks like. The United States tied the score on a goal by Zach Parise with 24.5 seconds left in regulation. Canada won 3-2 in overtime on a goal by Sidney Crosby.

Kane didn’t watch a tape of that game until recently.

‘‘At the time, you don’t realize how big of a game it was and how many people were watching, how much coverage there was, how big it was for the game of hockey in general,’’ he said. ‘‘In that sense, I was happy to be a part of it, but it still stings.’’

He was good as a 21-year-old on the 2010 Olympic team. He has the ability to go on a tear in this Olympics. Toews knows it.

‘‘He goes about his business the same way, no matter what,’’ he said. ‘‘He’s played in an Olympic final before, silver medalist. He’s won two [Stanley] Cups. He’s got a lot of experience. I’ve been able to see what he’s able to do up close.’’

I love when Toews finds a way to take a playful shot at Kane. But — who knows? — maybe Kane will be the one crowing about his gold medal this time. And his unofficial title as the American Idol of the Sochi Games.

Email: rmorrissey@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MorrisseyCST



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