By Leonor Vivanco, @lvivanco
7:12 PM CDT, June 13, 2013
In three short years, Patrick Kane has grown up.
Before lifting the Stanley Cup in 2010 at age 21, he talked to RedEye about how he liked to play himself in an NHL video game and how he was still adjusting to superstardom in Chicago, where athletes are mega-celebrities.
Fans saw the boyish grin he flashed when he celebrated that game-winning goal against Philadelphia in overtime to crown the Hawks champions.
Fast-forward three years and he still has the same boyish grin. Chicago witnessed it again when he smacked the puck into the net in double overtime against the L.A. Kings to clinch the series. But will fans see it during the Stanley Cup Final against Boston?
Even though Kane says he feels like the same kid at heart, the Lady Byng Trophy finalist seemingly has taken his skills to another level.
"A lot of us that were here in 2010 could say that we're probably better players now," he said. "I, myself, feel that I'm a well-rounded player. I got a lot better defensively without the puck. As time has gone on, I feel like I'm more focused about hockey now."
That may very well be. In years past, his off-ice exploits have been fodder for blogs and pundits. But this year has been quiet away from the ice.
In an interview with NHL posted online Friday, Kane seems to be aware of his partying reputation.
"I think some people might look at me and look from a reputation standpoint that maybe I like to have a little bit too much fun but I think at the same time I think I prepare pretty well to play the game of hockey," he said in the video.
Duncan Keith said his teammate has been misunderstood.
"Every guy likes to go out and have fun, especially when you're a young guy," Keith said. "He's no different. Sometimes, it just kind of got caught on camera, pictures, things like that.
"I think now he's got a girlfriend. You can tell, he's 24, turning 25. He's not 18 or 19 anymore," Keith said, adding it's fun to watch both Kane and captain Jonathan Toews grow up. "They're starting to stay in on a Friday night, watch a movie instead."
Before the Hawks won the Cup, Kane said he expected to see someone he knew when he heard his name called. Now, he tries to wander around Chicago incognito.
"It's funny. Whether it's just walking down the street to try to go to a movie or go to dinner or something like that, there's always a few people that recognize you," Kane said. "You kind of learn to wear the hat down low by your eyes, keep the head down and keep walking.
"There's great fans in Chicago. I think you'd rather have them recognize you than not recognize you. Just to show to great of a hockey city it is, that's how excited they are now."
It's no secret that frenzied fans want him to handle the puck when it comes to crunch time. And he does too.
"For me, I'm a player that wants the puck and I'm a better player when I have it," Kane said. "So I'm going to try to have that same mindset when going into the finals here, just trying to get the puck and make plays, not so much worry about scoring or getting assists or getting points."
In a shortened 2013 regular season, Kane scored just as many goals as he did all of last season (23). So far he has shoved in six goals during the playoffs, including his hat trick in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against Los Angeles.
"He's matured, yeah," Toews said. "He's matured a lot. He wants to keep getting better and better. He wants to contribute. He wants to be the go-to guy all the time."
This year, Kane continues to prove how well he handles pressure with three game-winning goals in the regular season and one in the playoffs. But it's tough to compare his two iconic goals of his career so far: the one against the Kings to clinch the Western Conference title this year and the one to win the Cup in 2010.
"[The goal against the Kings is] a moment that I'll never forget obviously," Kane said. "And it was one of the greatest moments of my career, I thought, maybe besides the Stanley Cup winner in 2010.
"But I don't think anything is going to beat scoring the game winner in 2010 unless I do it this year too."
And if he does, fans can bet on seeing that boyish grin again.
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