Patrick Kane steals Chris Chelios’ thunder as ‘Showtime’ returns to Chicago

CHICAGO — Patrick Kane was mostly stone-faced during his first lap around the neutral zone as Chicago Blackhawks fans showered him with love during the first TV timeout of the first period Sunday night. That’s what pro athletes do, they try to stay cool in the moment. Can’t let your emotions get the best of you.

But the crowd wouldn’t relent, so Kane finally did. Prompted by the deafening cheers (and fellow former Blackhawk Alex DeBrincat) for a second curtain call, Kane broke out into a big smile. By the time the third lap came, some 90 seconds into the ovation that started and never stopped during a two-minute tribute video, Kane could only laugh, smiling broadly with his stick held high in a salute to the city and the team that made him, and that he made.

“I didn’t know if I did enough laps or too many laps,” Kane said. “The guys kept telling me to go for another one, go for another one. Some of them wanted to see four, I only did three. It was great.”

That wasn’t the last ovation Kane received. For what surely is the first, and likely only, time in Blackhawks history, a Detroit Red Wing was cheered for scoring an overtime winner in Chicago. Kane took a stretch pass from (who else?) Alex DeBrincat, raced in on Petr Mrázek for a breakaway before doing his patented slow-down move, roofing the game-winner. He celebrated by playfully taunting the crowd, who didn’t let him leave without one more rousing cheer. Kane took one more solo lap at center ice, stick raised in the air, his No. 88 finally fading down the tunnel. The other tunnel, this time.

“The whole night was weird, to be honest with you,” he said. “A different kind of night. … Just a lot of emotions right now — scoring that goal, being back here, being on a different team. Just tried to show the fans there at the end they’ll always have my heart here.”

Sunday afternoon was an emotional oasis in a season largely devoid of excitement and energy. It began with Chris Chelios’ jersey-retirement ceremony — a raucous affair worthy of a raucous individual — and continued through the loudest national anthem of the season and peaked with Kane’s lengthy tribute and ended with the strangest “Showtime” moment in United Center history. For one day, Chicago was the center of the hockey world again, and it sounded just like the early 1990s, and then just like the early 2010s.

Here are some of the sights, sounds and soundbites from a memorable day — seven of them, because, well, 88 seemed a bit much.

1. It’s crazy to think about the amount of hockey talent in the building on Sunday. There was Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios, Patrick Kane, Denis Savard, Marian Hossa, Ed Belfour, Duncan Keith, Jeremy Roenick, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp, among others.

“Those were my guys when I came up — Seabs, Sharpie, Dunc, Hoss,” Kane said. “Those were some of my best friends for a long time. I spent a lot of time with those guys, a lot of fun memories. Pretty special to see those guys.”

But it was supermodel Cindy Crawford — a DeKalb native — who had the best hockey moment of the night, scoring during “Shoot The Puck” in the second intermission.

2. DeBrincat’s first game in Chicago as a member of his hometown Red Wings was understandably overshadowed, but he both scored the equalizer with 4:16 left in the third period and sprung Kane on his game-winning breakaway in overtime. The hard-working Blackhawks actually were the better team for much of the game, but as Chicago fans know so well, sometimes sheer talent is enough to beat effort.

“Feels awesome to have him part of it, too,” Kane said. “He’s just a special kid, special player. I know he’s happy to be here in Detroit, as well. Finding some happiness definitely helps you play better on the ice. I was getting a little frustrated today (but) he was keeping me positive the whole time. I guess he’s like the big brother to me here now.”

3. It was Kane and Chelios’ night, but everything is also sort of about Connor Bedard these days. Kane and Bedard didn’t share the ice much throughout Sunday’s game, but Bedard did throw one of the bigger hits of his young NHL career on Kane during the third period.

“He got a little physical on me in the corner there,” Kane said, smirking. “He’s lucky he had the bubble on or I was going after him.”

Kane said he respects Bedard because he understands what it takes to get to where Bedard is.

“I think obviously he has so much skill and his shot, very creative out there,” Kane said. “But when I think about him, I think about the work you have to put in to be at that level, right? Some people think it’s God-given talent or things like that. You go through it yourself when you’re younger. (Patrick Sharp) would always make fun of me and say I was silver-spoon-fed because I was the first-overall pick and got all these opportunities. I would always tell him, ‘Hey, you should’ve worked harder when you were a kid. That’s what gave me all those opportunities.’ He always liked that one and he quieted down pretty quickly after that. But that’s what I think with Connor. It seems he loves the game, loves practicing, loves working at his game, so, all that stuff pays off.”

4. Kane shared one of his earliest — and most painful — memories of playing against Chelios in the NHL.

“We had a power play and the puck was kind of stalled in the corner and I had my back facing the net and felt about seven crosschecks on my back, turned around and I was looking to see if there was going to be a penalty, but the ref decided to let it go for a little bit,” Kane said. “So, I decided to whack him back a couple times. And then I think it might’ve been the 12th crosscheck on my back that they finally called a penalty. We got a five-on-three out of it and scored. And after he was saying he wanted to give us a five-on-three so we could make the playoffs that year. I don’t think he was too honest about that one.

“And then of course my mom is mad about it after, saying, ‘He’s the same age as me. What’s he doing?’ But after that, we became pretty close.”

5. The rousing ovation Kane received when Chelios mentioned him during his speech served as a reminder of two fundamental truths: Chicago will always love Kane, and the Blackhawks-Red Wings rivalry is dead.

After all, Chelios was traded to Detroit and was hated in Chicago for years. Kane signed in Detroit and was immediately welcomed home with open arms.

Now there’s some nuance to that; Chelios’ breakup with Chicago was a messy one, with bitterness on both sides. But the fact that any Red Wings player could be so showered with adoration shows how one of the sport’s great rivalries has all but disappeared since Detroit engineered its move to the Eastern Conference ahead of the 2013-14 season.

Chelios said that after the trade Detroit simply didn’t accept him. Not for years. And he had legitimate concerns about where he could live long-term, considering he didn’t feel welcome in Chicago or Detroit. He said the 2002 Stanley Cup opened Detroit’s heart, and he jumped at the chance to return to the Blackhawks after his career finally ended when owner Rocky Wirtz invited him to become a team ambassador.

“I’m just glad Kaner did this now, too, because it takes a little bit of heat off me,” Chelios joked.

6. Chelios always has traveled in famous circles, and his friends showed up in full force for his big day. Beyond all the hockey talent in the building, John McEnroe and actor John C. McGinley represented Chelios’ so-called “Malibu Mob” — they have hats and everything — and they were joined by the likes of Dennis Rodman, Eddie Vedder, Theo Epstein and Cindy Crawford (Epstein and Vedder came up empty in Shoot The Puck, unlike Crawford). There were rumblings that Michael Jordan might show up, but Chelios said he was there in spirit.

“You want to have everybody here,” Chelios said. “Of course, it would have been really special to have MJ here. … I’m hanging in the rafters with his jersey. We spoke yesterday; he’s always been there for me. He was there for the Hall of Fame. Just something came up and we’ll celebrate on his boat next week.”

7. If you need any more proof that the early 1990s was, let’s say, a different time, Chelios told this quick story:

“I don’t care at this point — the day I got traded to Chicago (in 1990), I was actually in jail the night before,” he said. “I don’t know if you guys knew this. It was a fight, a street fight, no big deal. (General manager Bob Pulford) called me up and said, ‘If that’s the worst thing you’ve done, don’t worry about it. It’ll be fine.’”

(Top photo: Bill Smith / NHLI via Getty Images)

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