In 2008, a 19-year-old Kane finished with 10 points and the Americans finished sixth. This year, the diminutive Chicago Blackhawks superstar topped the scoring race with 20 points – the first player to hit that plateau since Canada’s Dany Heatley in 2008 – and his team claimed the bronze medal with a 4-1 win over the Canadians.
“It was a fun tournament,” said Kane, who was named MVP and a tournament all-star. “I had a lot of fun playing with some great players, representing Team USA, and being the captain. I was just trying to play winning hockey, whatever I could do to help the team. Obviously, I’m here to produce and try to create offence and make plays out there. Overall, I’m pretty happy.”
The U.S., which supplies roughly 25 per cent of NHL players, has often been criticized for not icing its best available talent at the Worlds. It hasn’t won a World Championship tournament since 1933 (not counting the 1960 and 1980 Olympics). Three bronze medals this decade (2013, 2015, 2018) marks progress, but there’s so much untapped potential.
Of earning some hardware, Kane said: “It’s important for us as a team, but it’s also important for USA Hockey. We haven’t medaled in this tournament as much, and for us to come home with a bronze, it kind of gets us over the hump in the World tournaments, especially the last few years. Now we can build off this level and try to keep getting better and better.”
Having the Buffalo-born number-one overall draft pick in 2007 don the Stars and Stripes again – as the only American ever to win the NHL’s Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy with 106 points in 2015/16 – was a big step in the right direction.
“You see guys like Patrick Kane coming to this tournament, it means a lot to a lot of people,” said defenceman Connor Murphy, a five-time Worlds veteran. “It’s a special thing for a guy like him to come and show that he wants to compete for our country.”
Another special moment came after the bronze medal game when former USA Hockey executive Jim Johansson’s brother John handed out the medals to Kane and his teammates. Jim Johannson unexpectedly passed away at age 53 in January, just weeks prior to the PyeongChang Olympics, and this year’s American World Championship team wanted to honour his legacy.
“[John] was pretty emotional,” Kane said. “So you know what it means to him, just to represent JJ and come home with something for him, especially in a tournament like this. He did a great job of representing JJ and his family. It was cool to see him hand out the medals. Even when I got the bronze medal trophy, I kind of gave it to him first and he was pretty emotional about that too. It was fun to stand next to him during the anthem.”
There is normally no love lost between the Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings – in fact, the last time the Wings made the second round, Kane helped defeat them en route to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and his second of three Stanley Cups. But he appreciated getting to play for current Detroit coach Jeff Blashill, who returned behind the U.S. bench for the second straight year.
“He’s a very passionate guy,” Kane said. “He’s very detailed. His passion’s at the top level among coaches I’ve played for. I think overall, I was just very impressed with him throughout this whole tournament. I think a lot of us after the [6-0 semi-final loss to Sweden] were very disappointed, very upset. It’s a tough situation. You lose that game when you come here to win gold and you lose in that fashion, it’s almost like at that point in time you don’t really care about the bronze. But he regrouped us. He set our minds straight.”
Sidney Crosby is another superstar who was able to reset his outlook by competing at the Worlds. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 and Olympic gold in 2010, the consensus best player in the world had seen his stock drop somewhat with several playoff disappointments with the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, after Nova Scotia’s favourite son captained Canada to gold in Prague in 2015, he soared to even greater heights than before, winning two Conn Smythe Trophies in Pittsburgh’s Cup runs of 2016 and 2017.
So when Kane came to Denmark, was he hoping for a Crosby-like boost?
“Absolutely. I’ve seen players in the past that have come over here and played well in this tournament and they get off to good starts and they have great seasons. I look at guys like [Nikita] Kucherov and [Patrik] Laine a couple of years ago and [William] Nylander had a great year, [Nathan] MacKinnon – guys like that who have played in this tournament and it kind of propels them forward. So I was thinking about that a little bit, but more just representing the U.S. and JJ and being part of this group.”
A 2007 World Junior bronze medalist and 2010 Olympic silver medalist, Kane is arguably the world’s most dazzling stickhandler. As he approaches his 30th birthday, it’s clear that he, USA Hockey, and the Blackhawks are also intent on seeing that he continues to improve at handling the challenges that hockey offers both on and off the ice.
Whether Kane is seeking his fourth Cup with the Hawks next spring or putting on the American uniform again at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Slovakia, his apparent newfound maturity and resolve could be a big asset.