VANCOUVER -- The most pressing question regarding Patrick Kane, Team USA's most dynamic scorer, isn't how he'll fare on the ice. In his third NHL season, the 21-year-old Chicago Blackhawks winger has already tied his career high of 25 goals and is on pace for 90 points this season. He comes into the tournament as the highest-scoring player on the U.S. team and is riding a four-game NHL point streak. No, the question isn't about his play -- it's how exactly the young man will get to the rink. Hail a taxi? Unlikely. A limo? Certainly not.
Over the past six months Kane has gotten as much attention for his off-ice exploits, which include a curious interaction with a Buffalo cabbie and the discovery of some embarrassing photos from a recent road trip to Vancouver, than he has for his team-leading 67 points. But when the puck drops tomorrow afternoon to begin perhaps the most anticipated hockey tournament in history, the focus will return to Kane's dazzling skill.
If the team is an orchestra -- a favorite analogy of Team USA general manager Brian Burke -- Kane is the concertmaster. Shifty with the puck and unafraid of traffic despite his relatively small frame, he can stickhandle through defenders with ease and he embarrasses goalies with his moves on a regular basis. He'll play on the top line with Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny, with whom he skated during last summer's orientation camp, and do-it-all Devils winger Zach Parise, a combination that could lead Team USA to surprising heights over the next week.
U.S. head coach Ron Wilson informed his players of their potential linemates a week or so ago, so they could begin to visualize what playing with them would be like. "Right when I found out [who I'd be on a line with], you start to think about the way Stastny plays, where he likes to go on the ice," says Parise. "You think to yourself, where does Kane like to be on the power play? And you think about what you can do to help these guys to make the line better."
From the looks of the team's first full practice on Monday evening, the other three lines will shake out like this: Joe Pavelski will center Phil Kessel and Ryan Malone; Ryan Kesler will be with Jamie Langenbrunner and Dustin Brown; and some mix of David Backes, Bobby Ryan, Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan will round out the bunch.
In his first Olympic Games, Kane, Team USA's youngest member, was happy and excited to be playing at all, considering the scare he got the night before. He took a nasty knee-on-knee hit in a shootout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, and his mind automatically raced to the Olympics: "I just wanted to stay down and make sure I don't hurt it any more by getting up too quick," Kane said. He assured reporters that he's fine, and he had no problems skating in practice.
It's good news for Kane and better news for the U.S. No matter how he gets to Canada Hockey Place tomorrow morning, he could be leaving it in a celebratory float by March.