Puck Daddy - NHL

If there's one image in our minds leading up to tonight's Chicago Blackhawks game at the Buffalo Sabres, it's not Patrick Kane(notes) standing in a courtroom or doing media spin at Olympic orientation camp. It's not the closetful of Kane mockery-wear that sprung up after his arrest over the summer for allegedly assaulting a Buffalo cab driver, for which he and his cousin eventually pled guilty on lesser chargers of disorderly conduct.

No, we're thinking about this image: His famous "pre-rookie card" (via My Hockey Card Obsession), as a cherub-faced Kid Kane rocks a Sabres jersey and smiles gleefully from the row against the glass at the Aud.

That's the guy who's playing in Buffalo for the first time since last summer's indiscretions; and while Kane isn't sure what reception he'll receive against the Sabres tonight, we expect it'll be soft ridicule instead of vitriol. Because Patrick Kane is just Buffalo's young, dumb native son.

Just look at the press coverage: He's "South Buffalo's Patrick Kane" on a local TV Web site. The Buffalo News's morning calendar doesn't make mention of any controversy in pimping the game, although it mentions that tonight is also Brian Campbell's(notes) return to Buffalo as well. (Blackhawk Up had a little fun with that.)

The paper's main feature on Kane deals mostly with his local ties and relationship with Tim Kennedy(notes) of the Sabres, although it does add some context to the local reaction to Kane's arrest last summer:

For Kane, it will be a different experience. The game marks his first in Buffalo since he and his cousin were involved in an offseason altercation with a cab driver. Don't applaud, just throw money. He's heard all the jokes. In truth, he sounded contrite last week while trying to put the incident behind him.

"I'm probably a little nervous and anxious to see what the reaction is going to be in Buffalo, especially after everything that happened," Kane said. "Obviously, it was a tough situation for my family and something I never want to go through again. You definitely grow up and learn a lot from the situation."

Kane's punishment was handed down in his own neighborhood. Apparently, the front lawn of his parents' home was littered with dimes after early reports said the dispute was over 20 cents. Others filed it under Young & Dumb and moved forward. Either way, he let down people who had cheered for him since he was a kid.

That's why Kane told the Sun Times in Chicago that he suspects there might be some boos tonight, which would be a 180-flip from the reactions to him in the past:

''While I had a lot of support, the media beat me up pretty good [in Buffalo],'' said Kane, who noted that some members of the Buffalo media have since apologized. (Ed. Note: Uh, really?)

''But I try not to think about that too much. I try to think about the positive things that have happened. I feel like the same kid, but maybe I'm more mature in certain situations. You've got to realize that the microscope is on you, and with that comes responsibility. Everything I do, even walking down the street, I've got to treat as if it'll be publicized. That helped me grow up a bit.''

Melissa Isaacson of ESPNChicago also spoke with Kane for a really in-depth and detailed take on his return to Buffalo; but she also attempted to capture the vibe in Buffalo via noted hot-air dispenser Bucky Gleason of the Buffalo News, who said:

"[Kane] was one of the things that could make Buffalo proud," Gleason said. "Through all the Super Bowl and Stanley Cups, teams here never won a championship. They will cling to anything that makes the city look better and Patrick Kane made the city look better and in the end, he made the city look bad and that doesn't go over big.

"If he was offended by the reaction of some of the people here, they were more offended and it needs to be somewhat of a repair job."

Both Kane and Gleason expect a mixture of boos and cheers. "The people booing him will just want to get it out," Gleason said, "and then they'll move on."

The boo'ers shouldn't boo to begin with, because time and hindsight have rendered the incident almost farcical. He embarrassed himself, he embarrassed his family, apologies have been accepted and the world's kept spinning. Mockery is accepted and expected; booing? Only in the context of the game being played. Hell, there are better reasons to boo Brian Campbell every time he touches the puck, which is why that's actually the marketing hook for tickets on Craiglist for the game.

(Campbell, for the record, said this after being traded to the San Jose Sharks: "I hope they've enjoyed watching me play. Don't boo me when I come back. C'mon, that's all. Don't boo me.")

Ah, yes: The game itself. The Blackhawks enter it with 41 points in 29 games and looking every bit like the favorite in the Western Conference. The Sabres enter it with 36 points in 28 games, and their win over the Washington Capitals this week made a lot of people take notice. A win over Chicago tonight would certainly help further establish the Sabres' credentials as a contender -- even if Ryan Miller(notes) is wearing most of those credentials around his neck.

Should be a good one, especially with two of the top six penalty killing teams in the NHL facing off.

At least that's our twenty ... er, two cents.

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