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Another ‘home’ game for Kane as Sabres host Blackhawks

Updated: March 9, 2014 6:20PM



BUFFALO, N.Y. — Cory Conacher, just claimed off waivers from the Ottawa Senators, knew he couldn’t wear his usual No. 89 with his new team, the Buffalo Sabres. That was Sabres great Alexander Mogilny’s number, and Conacher knew he never was going to score 76 goals in a season the way Mogilny did in 1992-93.

So he took No. 88, instead. But first, he cleared it with Patrick Kane.

“He just texted me and he’s like, ‘I’m going to wear your number in Buffalo, is that all right?’” Kane said with a laugh. “I was like, yeah, you don’t need to be asking me that.”

But it didn’t hurt to make sure. Conacher and Kane skate together in the summer. And Conacher’s suburban Toronto hometown is just an hour away on the other side of Niagara Falls. So he knows that while Kane is rapidly becoming a Chicago icon, he’ll always be Mr. Buffalo — already considered by many locals to be the greatest athlete the city’s ever produced.

Even for the Blackhawks’ brief morning skate, eight hours before the puck dropped at First Niagara Center on Sunday, hundreds of fans came to the rink, many of them wearing No. 88 sweaters — Kane’s, of course, not Conacher’s.

“I’ve never seen that many people at a morning skate,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “I’m sure Kaner had a lot to do with that.”

Thanks to the lockout and the quirks of the old NHL schedule, it was the Hawks’ first game in Buffalo since Oct. 11, 2010, when Kane scored his first goal as a defending Stanley Cup champion.

And he’s been eagerly awaiting his return since.

It’s just his fourth time back, and it’s still a big deal for him — to play in the arena in which he saw so many games as a kid, to have his friends and family in the crowd, to run into the long-time equipment managers whom he used to beg for sticks and pucks as a 7-year-old.

“It’s probably one of the first things I look for when the schedule comes out — when we’re playing Buffalo, and where the game’s at,” Kane said. “It’s good to be back.”

Kane still spends his offseasons in Western New York. And while just about everybody recognizes him, they treat him — in Kane’s words — “like a regular Buffalonian.”

“Throughout the summer, I feel like I’m a regular, 25-year-old guy,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons I come back, it’s one of the best parts about it.”

It’s also one of the reasons why he’s frequently asked if he’ll ever play for the Sabres, the team he grew up with. Hawks general manager Stan Bowman has said repeatedly that both Kane and Jonathan Toews — whose matching contracts expire after next season and who are eligible for extensions as of July 1 — will be in Chicago “forever,” fully confident he’ll have the money to sign both to long-term deals.

But any time the Hawks play the Sabres, it seems to come up.

In the press, at least. Not among Kane’s pals back home. He said there’s been no lobbying for the hometown hero to return and save a proud franchise that — despite being in utter disarray and wallowing in last place in the NHL — still averages about 18,500 fans per game.

“No, not really,” Kane said. “Haven’t heard that talk yet. But I grew up loving the Sabres, and coming to a lot of games, and it’s cool for me to come back. … You kind of get the best of both worlds, living in Chicago during the season, and then coming back here for summer, to relax and enjoy your down time. I definitely still feel very connected to the city.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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