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Team USA welcomes bad boy Kane

Woodridge, Ill. -- Patrick Kane was greeted by the insistent whirr of motor-drive cameras when he walked into a second floor conference room shortly after 10 a.m. CDT. He was wearing a somber suit and an expression roughly two shades darker. Kane should be used to having his picture taken, although most recently once from the front and once from the side.

There is an undeniable smirk on that boyishly handsome mug shot taken last week by some Annie Leibovitz on the Buffalo police force, but he looked like a chastened schoolboy with a string of Ds on his report card as he stood uncomfortably between Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and Team USA GM Brian Burke and read a statement that nodded to all the appropriate parties -- the justice system, playing for his country, his NHL team, his family, his hometown of Buffalo, Blackhawks fans -- without revealing anything.

Kane was "moving ahead," he said, although in truth he went sideways, out a door on the first day of the three-day U.S. Olympic orientation camp, wiping sweat off his brow with each hand as he and a mute Bowman walked down the ramp. Kane also apologized, although as apologies go the past couple of days, this was more 60 seconds than 60 Minutes.

For a Stanley-Cup winning GM who has made a nice career by stressing the importance of character on his hockey teams, Burke must have been galled that Kane had ended up with his mug shot plastered over Internet, looking like a punk. But when asked about the world's most famous taxi passenger, Burke proclaimed Kane's alleged dustup with a Buffalo taxi driver in the early hours two weekends ago did not in the least reveal a character flaw. He argued it was simply a case "of the wrong place at the wrong time."

"I know when I was Patrick Kane's age," Burke said, "I did a couple of things I wouldn't want to talk about up here."

To refresh the memory about the wrong place and the wrong time, the 20-year-old Kane was swanning around the bistros of Chippewa Street in Buffalo, sometime after 4 a.m. on Aug. 9. (Now, it is unlikely that alcohol was involved in the incident because this young boulevardier is not of legal age and there is no way he or the fine establishments in the area would have broken the law by serving him, correct?) In any case, the fare registered $13.80 on the meter, and the taxi driver said Kane and his cousin were not satisfied by the dollar they received as change. (Apparently the cabbie was a day late and two dimes short.)

In the ensuing contretemps, if the driver is to be believed, Kane's cousin and the 2008 NHL Rookie of the Year gave him a physical what-for, a dust-up in which the cabbie's face was scraped and his glasses broken. Certainly the driver didn't inflict those boo-boos himself.

(While the felony robbery charge and those accompanying misdemeanors vanish, there is absolutely no doubt that when Kane skates by an opposing bench this season at least one wisenheimer is guaranteed to shout "ta-XI!" Kane later conceded he expects to take a ribbing.)

The wrong place/wrong time explanation rang hollow for a young NHL star with a great game -- remember, Washington's Alexander Semin preferred Kane's to Sidney Crosby's -- and greater sense of entitlement. If an ounce of swagger has been knocked out of Kane, maybe the incident will be worth the hit his reputation and wallet might take as the lawyers sink their teeth into this.

According to future USA Olympic teammates, Kane seemed subdued on the bus from downtown to the training camp in the western suburbs of Chicago. Some even called Kane "a good kid," which probably was less a character assessment than an expression of solidarity.

There but for the grace of cell phone cameras ...

Mike Modano, of course, had made his own faux pas -- as recently as 2006 while wearing a USA Olympic jersey. Just minutes after an ineptly constructed American team was bounced by Finland in the Turin quarterfinals, Modano verbally carved USA Hockey into bite-sized morsels. The venom and timing of the mixed-zone meltdown were stunning, but to the credit of USA Hockey, it doesn't carry a grudge.

Rather than marking Modano lousy for his ridicule and blacklisting him -- Hockey Canada is suspected of doing exactly that to Marc Savard, who can't sniff an invitation to Canada's 46-player Olympic camp next week following years of declining offers to play in World Championships -- USA Hockey invited Modano here as a player/mentor, the only member of the 1996 World Cup and 1998 Olympic teams to be invited to this orientation camp. (Modano was drafted No. 1 overall by the Minnesota North Stars in 1988 draft, before Kane was born.)

Burke will put another 40 names on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency list just in case, including graybeards such as Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk, but it will be an upset if more than one or two players -- Jason Pominville? Brian Gionta? -- forge their way onto the team with a good first half of the 2009-10 NHL season.

Coach Ron Wilson also is back. He led the Americans to arguably the most impressive if not celebrated win in their hockey history -- no, not Lake Placid 1980, the 1996 World Cup -- but also was behind the bench for the Nagano disgrace in which the same players who were triumphantly helping spread what Wilson calls "the tribal messages" from 1996 were breaking some furniture in their Olympic village rooms. (There was $3,000 worth of trashing done.)

Wilson said Monday he didn't think he would have the chance to coach an Olympic team again but said it had nothing to do with the disgrace in the Village. These coaching jobs, he suggested, seem to move around.

The apologists said the boys were just being boys in 1998 when USA Hockey tarnished its reputation with its Village folly. The same players are all men now, a status to which Kane -- who later signed autographs to the point of carpal tunnel syndrome practice Monday - should aspire over the years.

Given his serious mien, Kane might be thinking about the maturation process before the legal system puts in its two, or 20, cents.