4:18 | NHL
Patrick Kane continues with great season as NHL closes investigation
Wednesday March 9th, 2016

This story appears in the Mar. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. To subscribe, click here.

The hating began when they introduced the hometown boy. Boos erupted in the noontime air at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center on Dec. 19, mixed with cheers. Patrick Kane’s parents and relatives and lawyer and old teammates and not a few drinking buddies were present, after all, not to mention hundreds of loving fans sporting Blackhawks jerseys with his name and number 88. But the jeering only got louder as the periods passed, and soon that was all you heard. Each time Kane touched the puck, each time he made his presence felt, the sound of censure rose and chased him.

He heard. “That,” Kane says, “hadn’t happened previous.” No, the first time the South Buffalo native returned, as a rookie in 2007, the city couldn’t have been nicer. His dad, Pat Sr., and grandpa Don had dropped the ceremonial first puck and kids held up adoring signs, and the crowd couldn’t stop cheering Kane even when he scored, even when he was called for hooking. “You can’t go wrong tonight,” the penalty box attendant said, opening the door.

That’s how it went, too, the next three times Chicago’s All-Star winger came home. Once the novelty wore off, sure, Kane heard “maybe a little bit” of booing, but who understood better than he? Kane grew up on Sabres hockey. His family had season tickets in hallowed Memorial Auditorium, front row; you can see him, blond and tiny and cute, sitting on his dad’s lap in the background of a Sylvain Turgeon trading card, a Pat LaFontaine poster. When they built the new arena in 1995, six-year-old Pat Kane, swimming in a Dominik Hasek jersey, signed his name on the last steel beam to go in. It’s in the rafters still.

And year after year, in the family’s seats behind the opposing bench, young Pat heckled visiting stars without mercy: Such is Buffalo tradition. He never forgot the time Philly’s Eric Lindros got tossed and all energy drained out of the stands. “The game wasn’t fun anymore,” Kane says. “No one was watching him or booing him.”

But though Buffalonians are famously loyal, though the First Niagara crowd knew his bona fides intimately (forget six, locals love to say; only two degrees of separation pertain here), the line on Pat Kane had grown increasingly dark. Last August a 21-year-old woman accused Kane, then 26, of raping her in his home outside Buffalo. Kane insisted that he did “nothing wrong”; both DNA evidence and testimony from secondary witnesses seemed to strongly corroborate him. After a three-month interlude speckled by accusations of evidence tampering and what Erie County district attorney Frank Sedita called “an elaborate hoax” by the alleged victim’s mother, the DA ended his investigation without charge.

That Nov. 5 announcement seemed as close to an exoneration of Patrick Kane as the criminal justice system can provide. Yet when the Blackhawks made their lone visit of the season to Buffalo six weeks later, Kane received almost no benefit of the doubt. “It was disheartening,” says Kevin Kerr, Kane’s youth travel team coach. Finally, after enduring the booing from a man a few seats over for a bit, Kerr turned and said, “What is wrong with you people?”

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Envy, some say. Four years out of the playoffs, with a fifth on the way, have left Sabres fans numb. Meanwhile, here was Kane starring for the defending Stanley Cup champions, having the time of his life—the NHL’s leading scorer, just off a historic 26-game points streak, on track to make 2015–16 the best season ever by an American-born player. But Kane had won before. Kane had been great before. Every other year Buffalo had been proud.

Now, it seemed, a line had been crossed. Kane’s reputation, dinged by years of relatively minor public scrapes and savaged by the newest accusation, appeared to have achieved a critical mass—and critical masses—-seemingly resistant to legal argument and strict definitions of sexual assault. Despite a lack of forensic evidence, the thinking seemed to go, something happened there. At the very least, Kane had placed himself in a position to taint his name, and embarrass their city. Again.

“I think a lot of that was in the building at that time—a lot of resentment,” says Brett Bennett, who played with Kane for a decade growing up. “Like, This kid is given the world, and it seems like every six months to a year something new comes up where he’s doing something. Have some respect. Respect your town, respect yourself, respect your family. Buffalo’s a small town, there’s only so many athletes, and it just seems repetitive. Whether it’s true or not, it keeps happening.”

But if the cacophony bothered Kane, it didn’t show. Friends, family and hockey types all describe Kane as quick to cry, but the afternoon in Buffalo showcased his impervious core. With Chicago down 2–1 with 35.9 seconds left to play, Kane, lurking outside the right post, took a pass from Artemi Panarin and rammed the puck in to tie the score. He wheeled away, twice pumping his fist at the crowd and screaming. The boos came down in waves, of course; Kane stood waiting for play to resume, showing his teeth.

“He pounded the nail in,” says Paul Cambria, Kane’s lawyer, “and then he countersunk it.” The game went to a shootout. Kane hit the ice (“Listen to the reaction as the Buffalo native steps over the boards!” WGN broadcaster Pat Foley yelled) and drifted toward Sabres goalie Chad Johnson. He dangled the puck to and fro, halted, gave a slight head fake; Johnson bit. Kane sliced his signature backhand nearly vertical, top shelf: Game-winner. The building went dead.

Bennett texted him after: “What did you think of all that booing?” Kane gave the same answer that he gives now.

“I love it,” he says.

Bill Wippert/NHL via Getty Images

The black was his dad’s idea. Pat (Tiki) Kane owned part of Buffalo’s biggest Jeep dealership—and its bottomless supply of touch-up paint—when his oldest child began taking hockey seriously in 1995. Tiki and his wife, Donna, bought black helmets, pants, gloves, socks. Then he took black paint to the sticks, the skates: Any logo, any bit of Day-Glo, was painted over; nightly dabs here and there kept the look flawless. Pale-skinned, the smallest skater always, Patrick Kane was kitted out like some pint-sized Darth Vader.

He was seven. Already, parents had taken note of the kid’s stickhandling and knack for shedding defenders. Little Pat would come in from the endless roller-hockey games at their home on Susan Lane, dragging his net, furious: The other kids weren’t taking it seriously enough. Soon he was outplaying bigger kids at the neighborhood rink in Cazenovia Park, and Tiki had him trying out for AAA teams all across the area, playing up a year, going to skills clinics, travel teams year-round. Patrick changed jerseys in the car.

Bennett’s first contact was at Hockey Outlet in Tonawanda, 35 minutes from home. “Pat comes walking in, all black,” he says. “Then at the end he puts skate guards on and goes walking back out of the rink with all his gear on—because he’s going to another skate. He used to go to three different rinks a day.”

Word got around: You want to win? Stop the kid in black. They said that about Tiki, too, back when he played for McKinley High in the mid-1970s, but Caz Rink wasn’t covered then, ice time was far harder to find, and his dad certainly didn’t have the time to be shuttling him over to Fort Erie for practice. Don Kane was one of Buffalo’s quiet forces: adviser to mayors, conduit to jobs, vital lever for the Democratic machine. “The greatest politician in western New York that never ran for public office,” says one of his protégés, U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins. “A very, very influential guy, and he remained so until his death.”

Along with his firecracker wife, Patricia, few knew better the ins and outs of South Buffalo, a world as distinct from the city as Queens is from Manhattan. “It’s like an island,” says Tiki’s sister, Bonnie Kane Lockwood. “Between Cazenovia Creek, the Buffalo River and Lake Erie, we always have to take some bridge to get home.” Fifty years of out-migration has drained much of Buffalo of its original grit or grandeur, but not here: Defined by parishes, heir to Buffalo’s Old First Ward, the South Side has lost some Irish Catholic flavor but none of its fiercely clannish pride. It teems, still, with cops, firefighters, teachers, nurses. Drinking is a pastime. Forgetting where you came from is a sin.

“They’ve got a special culture,” says NHL coaching great Scotty Bowman, a local since 1980. “They are different. If you’re from South Buffalo—or you’re accepted there—you’re a different kind of guy.”

And everyone there respected Don Kane—his warmth, connections, his usual rejoinder to any gratitude for favors, large or small. “You know how to thank me,” he’d say. “Be good.” Everybody knew his six kids, whether or not they were semi-famous like Lockwood, a former city councilwoman, or John Kennedy (Circ) Kane, the ringmaster for the Big Apple Circus. “I’m from a family of car salesmen and politicians,” Circ likes to say. “So when I joined the circus, it actually elevated the family image.”

Soon Tiki’s son was taking it in a new direction. By the time he hit 11, Patrick was scoring four and five goals a game, piling up some 230 points in a season of 60 games. Buffalo hockey was like youth sports everywhere: pushy parents, kids tired of being pushed. Tiki pushed, too, but Patrick was one of the rare ones—taking extra shots in the dark after practice, forever flipping a ball or puck in hotel hallways. He couldn’t get enough. He knew how good he was.

Courtesy of the Kane family

“I’ve always had that confidence in myself—especially when I’m playing,” Kane says. “Maybe even off the ice, early in my career, where sometimes it could come across as cockiness. But that’s just how it was: even with my size, I was never really happy if I didn’t score, if I didn’t produce points in a hockey game. At any level.”

That stayed with him when the summer league coach scolded him at 10 for trying to win all by himself. It stayed with Kane at 14, when he left home in tears to play for the Honeybaked AAA team in Detroit, and when the coach there, Donnie Harkins, had him crying in the locker room because of “casual play.” Kane adjusted each time, came to love lofting the saucer pass, drawing double teams and setting up teammates as much as scoring. His self-belief never cracked, not even in 2004 when the U.S. National Team Development Program took a pass on him, inviting in 40 other American 16-year-olds deemed more worthy. Great skill set and hockey sense, went the scouting report, but a little meek—and still has the body of a 12-year-old.

“Look, we’re the dummies that didn’t put him on the team right away,” says USA Hockey’s Ken Martel, then head of NTDP player personnel. “But Pat’s different. He just believed he was going to be. I think he surprised everybody.”

Not those who’d grown up watching him pull off spin-o-ramas at nine, and forever hammering home clutch goals. After two more tryouts, Kane finally made the U-17 NTDP team—and that was that. “He came in and had, like, seven points in two games,” says then teammate Blake Geoffrion. “First goal with us: He took a pass and beat the goalie clean to the blocker side, and it went just inside the post and ripped around the net like his goals always do—and we all looked, like, Who is THIS kid?

In his second, 58-game season, Kane broke the program’s single-season record with 102 points. Sometime that year he and Bennett, his NTDP teammate, were talking about the 2006 NHL entry draft. Bennett, a goalie, was worrying where he’d end up; Kane wouldn’t be eligible until ’07. Still small at 5' 8", still suspect as an NHL prospect, Kane recalls being pegged as a third-rounder by some scouts. Revelatory performances in the OHL for the London Knights and at the World Juniors in Sweden in ’06–07 were still ahead of him.

“I’m going to be the No. 1 pick my year,” Kane said then.

“Crazy to think that,” Bennett says. “But he was.”

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By the time the Blackhawks did select him first in 2007, Kane’s story had taken on a child-of-destiny gloss. Tiki sold Hasek a Jeep once, taking a Mercedes in trade (and taking it home for one night, just to enjoy its rich hum)—and guess who Patrick ended up scoring on first as a pro? As a kid Patrick once posed for a photo with Bowman, and he ended up living his rookie year in the basement of Bowman’s son, Stan, Chicago’s GM in waiting. Kane was 18 with blond curls, a scampish air, a goofy rapport with his three younger sisters; the family was admired for its closeness. The cameras caught it on draft day in Columbus, Ohio: All of them walking over from the hotel together, the post-announcement hugs. And after his folks, the first person Patrick embraced was Don Kane.

That mattered. Because if Tiki Kane got plenty of credit for guiding his son’s career, investing $200,000, using the loose hours at his car dealership to attend nearly every practice, every game, everywhere, it’s always tricky riding the line between taskmaster and father. Patrick asked Tiki to back up, at last, after a rough outing his first year at Honeybaked (“It’d be nice for you to be my dad right now,” he said, “instead of giving me advice”), and bar-stool critics smirked plenty when Tiki quit the dealership and began spending winters on the road to Chicago.

Patrick’s bond with Don Kane wasn’t nearly as complicated—grandparents have that luxury—but it ran deep. They spent summers together at the family lake house out in Angola, and when Tiki finally convinced his folks to move into the house next door on McKinley Parkway, Patrick was there all the time come summer; they’d sit by the pool needling each other, play poker, watch Don’s beloved Yankees. He asked his granddad to be his confirmation sponsor. When 75-year-old Don tried to demur, suggesting he get somebody younger, Patrick wouldn’t have it. “But you’re my best friend,” he said.

So Don became Pat’s biggest fan, building his days around the Blackhawks schedule. “Game night!” he would yell down to Circ, sleeping then in the basement. It’d be 7 a.m. Patrick racked up 72 points his rookie year and won the Calder Trophy. In 2010 he became the youngest player to score the Stanley Cup–winning goal in overtime, snapping the Blackhawks’ 49-year title drought; in ’13 he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Don watched all of it pass in wonder, posing the question asked across the NHL.

“How does he do it?” he’d say. “How?”

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On Feb. 3, 2014, while walking over to the Staples Center for a game against the Kings, Patrick received the call from his mom: His grandfather was dead at 87. Kane didn’t tell his teammates. The first time he touched the puck, he scored, 62 seconds in—another cosmic sign for the family. Sixty-two years was the age difference between the two. Patrick pointed to the sky then, and again when he scored in the third. Afterward he stood in front of his locker for the cameras, tears flowing down his cheeks.

Kane missed the Blackhawks game four days later, the same day the funeral mass was held at South Buffalo’s St. Ambrose Catholic Church, the one on Ridgewood Road with the gorgeous stained glass. The pews were packed, so word spread fast once people noticed. There, atop the casket in front of the altar, someone had laid a hockey puck. Just in from L.A.

Getty Images

In mid-February, while winter pummeled the nation’s northern half and NBA and college hoopsters and every other NHL team waded into the teeth of sports’ bleakest month, the Blackhawks found themselves hit with a week of psychic sunshine.

First came NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, fresh off not solving his game’s goalie-interference snafus, and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, fresh off not solving the local schools crisis, announcing the 2017 NHL draft would be held at the United Center. In winning three titles in six years and revivifying a once-lost market, the Blackhawks, Bettman said, had become one of modern sport’s “preeminent” franchises. “Both on and off the ice,” he said, “they are committed to doing things the right way.”

A week later, after notching its 358th straight home sellout and staging a pitch-perfect ceremony to welcome back Stars forward Patrick Sharp—the dynasty stalwart who was coolly traded last July, and has hardly been missed since—the team was honored for its 2015 title at the White House.

“A remarkable organization, a model organization,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly afterward. “I wish I had 29 more like it.”

All of which is to say that the Blackhawks, indeed, have come a long way from the irrelevant days of 2007, when owner Rocky Wirtz took hold of the club at the death of his oddly archaic (Home games on TV? Never!) dad. Rocky’s first deft move was a five-hour lunch with bewildered Cubs president John McDonough, during which he offered up good cash, soaring ambition and a mandate to clear the front office of sclerotic personnel and practice. When McDonough asked five close friends what they thought about him bolting the friendly confines after two decades for the Blackhawks, the first response was, he says, a “deafening silence.” The second: “Mac, are you out of your f---ing mind?”

And in truth, McDonough admits that even with Wirtz’s talk about building a class organization, the three subsequent Stanley Cup titles—and the attendant Twitter/Instagram/Facebook-fueled celebrity—hit them all like a flash flood. “No one saw this coming,” he says. “It’s like a garage band got together, and they played House of Blues and that went pretty well and the next thing you know they’re playing Soldier Field. Boom! Boom! Boom!”

That helps account for the franchise’s upbeat yet paranoid vibe: Any “model” assembled so quickly can collapse just as fast. And if a pop-culture landscape littered with rise-and-falls doesn’t provide warning enough, Kane alone has kept everyone on their toes. “I think that there is a maturation process that is taking place right now with Patrick,” McDonough says. “The events over this past summer probably opened his eyes to a lot of things, and he recognizes how difficult this was on all of us—not just his family—but all of us here within this organization. Because we really do feel that this is a special, special place, and he’s at the epicenter of it.”

Indeed while center Jonathan Toews, the so-called Captain Serious, is credited with being the team’s dependable engine, it’s Kane who serves as its flashy hood ornament, all uncanny stickwork and didya-see-that? goals. During Kane’s rookie year Sharp pointed to a spot on his unmarred blade during a game in Nashville and jokingly dared Kane to make his mark. “And that shift he went out, and whether it was luck or skill he hit me with a one-timer, and I scored,” Sharp says. “We came back to the same spot on the bench, and I had a little black mark on my stick. Never seen anything like it.”

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Last year Kane came back after snapping his collarbone, tallied an NHL-high 23 points through the playoffs and helped add Cup No. 6 to Chicago’s trophy case—yet more proof that the hockey world has been witnessing the bloom of some very rare gifts. Asked to name all-timers who possessed Kane’s ability to sense where his teammates will go well before they do, Denis Savard, his first Blackhawks coach, could come up with only one. “The Great One,” he says, referring to Wayne Gretzky. “Patrick’s got a ways to go yet at 27, but he’s a game-changer. The elite group—Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, those players who could turn a game, switch it right away—he’s that.”

Savard, of course, was also a compact winger known for his dazzling elusiveness. “But I panicked,” he says. “I was not as cool as he is.” Kane’s knack for protecting the puck even as defenders swarm and hack at him mystifies Savard. He stands up and starts imitating: blank-faced, elbowing imaginary leaning foes, working the puck with all the urgency of a man flipping a burger. “I don’t know how you do that,” he says.

“I’ve never seen hands like this,” says Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, who as Chicago’s GM drafted Kane. “The puck seems to stick to his blade, you know? But Patrick’s kind of a new deal for me: Got a little bit of Savvy, a little bit of Gretzky, a bit of Jaromir Jagr. He’s a hybrid.”

Off-ice, too, Kane has proven a mixed bag. There was the, at best, ridiculous run-in with a Buffalo cabdriver in 2009, when 20-year-old Patrick and his cousin, James M. Kane, were accused of assaulting Jan Radecki when he came up 20 cents short on their change. Radecki claimed to the Chicago Tribune that he suffered a broken nose in the melee, and heard Patrick say, “You don’t know who you’re f---in’ with!”; Kane and his cousin pleaded guilty to non-criminal disorderly conduct, and he apologized to Radecki, his teammates and fans.

Five months later photographs of Kane and two teammates partying shirtless in a Vancouver limo with three clothed women shot around the Internet. He apologized again, saying, “probably time to grow up a bit.” But in May 2012, Deadspin published a photo-rich account of an apparently inebriated Kane—in a T-shirt emblazoned with kaner and the photo from that Vancouver limo—cavorting about during a Cinco de Mayo blowout in Madison, Wis. He apologized for that, too. His life seemed to calm. Last season stories began to be written about a new, more mature Patrick Kane.

Then in June, after winding along a parade route that drew two million Chicagoans, Kane stepped forward to address 61,000 more Blackhawks fans at the Stanley Cup rally at Soldier Field. He uttered one sentence. “I know you’ve said I’ve been growing up, but watch out for me the next week,” he said.

“That one bothered me,” says Darrin Madeley, one of Kane’s U-17 coaches at USA Hockey. “That put a knot in my stomach like you wouldn’t believe.”

Six weeks later, just before Kane’s traditional day with the Cup in his hometown, The Buffalo Newsreported an investigation into a possible sexual assault at 4 a.m. on Aug. 2, allegedly at Kane’s lakeside home near Hamburg, N.Y., 13 miles outside Buffalo. On a night out at SkyBar, downtown, Kane met the 21-year-old woman and allegedly invited her, her female companion and his friend Thomas Cowan, a South Buffalo tavern owner, to his home. An off-duty Buffalo police officer, employed by Kane for five years, drove them. There, the woman alleged to Hamburg police later that day, according to The Buffalo News, citing sources, Kane followed her into an empty room, forced her onto a bed and raped her.

By late September the case would begin to fall spectacularly apart. In his one public comment on the allegation, during a tense press conference at the opening of Blackhawks training camp, Kane professed innocence and said that he expected to be absolved. But in the immediate aftermath, all his public events with the Cup were canceled; instead Kane hosted a quiet barbeque for friends and family. He cut short his usual summer stint with a local beer league team, nixed his annual daylong floor hockey tournament with buddies, all but dropped from public view. “I could barely text him about anything, because he didn’t want anything getting out there. He was rattled,” Bennett says.

“He’s like, ‘I’m scared, but I know I’m good. I didn’t do anything.’ But I don’t care how confident you are: O.J. got off. You have no idea what can happen.”

McDonough was in the Twin Cities for the announcement of last month’s outdoor game with the Wild when he got the call. “I remember standing in a courtyard at St. Thomas University, and it just ... I had to walk it off for a while,” he says. “I had to think: I don’t know all the details so I’m not going to rush to judgments ... I’ll get back to Chicago ... I just had to absorb it.”

One report called McDonough’s reaction “volcanic” and had Blackhawks management seriously mulling—for the first time—a future without Kane. “Complete b.s.,” he says. “But this was not a fun summer for me.”

On Sept. 16 the Blackhawks, amid calls to suspend Kane until the investigation yielded some clarity, announced with the NHL’s approval that Kane would attend training camp. As he was leaving Buffalo, Kane called Wirtz and apologized, Wirtz says, “for putting the organization, the team, in a tough situation.” But his remorse was not the deciding factor for Blackhawks management.

“There were facts that we knew that were told to us—but hadn’t been made public—and that’s when we made our decision,” Wirtz says. “We believed Patrick when he said he didn’t do anything. With the supporting facts around it, we took him at his word, and rightfully so, I think.”

Among those facts, according to Kane’s defense lawyer, was the DNA result in the investigative report released to him by Sedita. “There was none of my client’s DNA found in her genital area, below the waist,” Cambria says, taking off the table physical proof that penetration—necessary for a rape charge—had occurred. And, Cambria says, the accounts made to the DA by Cowan and the alleged victim’s female companion about their time at the Hamburg home varied significantly with that of the accuser.

“I’m a witness, and I know the truth: There’s no way. Nothing happened between Patrick Kane and this girl,” says Cowan, 36. “Based on what I saw in the 25 minutes in his house, I find it close to impossible that any incident that she claimed happened. There’s no way. I’d put every live dollar on it.”

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According to Cowan, he and Kane and the two women arrived at Kane’s home at around 4:15 a.m. and played some Ping-Pong; Kane showed them his workout room overlooking Lake Erie. All of them were in the house no more than 25 minutes, Cowan says. Kane and the woman were out of his sight once, for “under two minutes,” he says, and “next thing you know, the girl was like, ‘I want to leave.’”

She called for a ride. Cowan says that he walked the two women to the street to wait. “She said, ‘I want to go home.’ I said, ‘You all right?’ and she said, ‘I just want to go home,’” Cowan said. Asked if she seemed upset in any way, Cowan says, “No, she just wanted to leave. It didn’t seem like there was anything wrong. It was 4:45 in the morning.”

Cowan and Kane have been friends for years. Though Kane and his friends frequent Cowan’s establishments, he said he shares no business interests with Kane. He says he repeated his account for investigators from the DA’s office multiple times, under oath.

But if the lack of a DNA match below her waist raised doubt, it hardly proved that there had been no physical contact at all between Kane and the woman. Cambria confirms that the rape kit also revealed traces of Kane’s DNA on the woman’s shoulders and beneath her fingernails that were, he emphasizes, “consistent with casual and innocent contact.” According to The Buffalo News, after leaving Kane’s home the morning of Aug. 2, the woman called her brother, underwent a rape examination at a hospital where she was found to have a scratched leg and bruising on her shoulders—and reported her allegations to the Hamburg police.

To say that the investigation loomed darkly over the Blackhawks and the NHL is understatement; it threatened to swallow the season whole. Commentators dug in, pro and con. Years of debate over athlete privilege, domestic violence and victim-shaming couldn’t help but color the public perception of Kane. Then the whole thing veered into farce.

On Sept. 23 one of the alleged victim’s attorneys, Thomas Eoannou, called a press conference to announce that the rape-kit evidence bag had been found, ripped open, on the front doorstep of the accuser’s mother. He claimed evidence-tampering and demanded an investigation; while doing so Eoannou also inadvertently said the accuser’s first name (alleged rape victims are usually anonymous), then revealed it fully while holding up the evidence bag for the world to see.

Gary Wiepert/AP Photos

The next day Eoannou resigned from the case, saying that he no longer believed the mother’s story. On Sept. 25, Sedita called a rare news conference to announce that all evidence in the case was still in the investigator’s possession and had not been compromised, to explain that the bag had originally been given to the alleged victim and her mother at the hospital and to term the episode an “elaborate hoax” cooked up by the mother. He noted, too, that he had no reason to believe the accuser had been involved. (Neither the alleged victim nor her mother have responded publicly or returned multiple requests for comment from SI.)

With the credibility of the accuser’s camp suddenly in question, what happened next came as no shock. In the following weeks the alleged victim told the DA that she no longer wished to proceed with a criminal prosecution. On Nov. 5, Sedita announced that the lack of DNA evidence, the “material inconsistencies” between the woman and other witnesses, and the physical and forensic evidence that tended “to contradict” the claim that she was raped on Kane’s bed left the case “rife with reasonable doubt.”

The investigation was finished. Kane would face no charge, no courtroom, no risk of under-oath humiliation or jail time.

“Obviously,” Kane says, “it was good news.”

Kane’s accuser still has until Aug. 1 to file a complaint in civil court, where the burden of proof is far lower than in criminal cases. Neither Eoannou nor the woman’s civil attorney, Roland Cercone, responded to repeated requests for comment from SI. When contacted again in late February, Cercone’s office confirmed that he no longer represents her. Cambria, meanwhile, says he has never engaged in settlement talk and has been granted no authority by Kane to settle.

With legal swords still unsheathed, Kane declined to answer SI’s questions about the night in question or the investigation. “I don’t even think I’m supposed to: That’s the thing,” he says. “There’s been plenty of times that I’ve wanted to defend myself in the whole situation, but it’s kind of in the past now. I’m just looking forward to moving on from everything.”

Kind of. The fact is the investigation has dogged Kane’s every step since. That December afternoon against the Sabres was but a microcosm; despite the ongoing slams upon his character, Kane keeps producing. In the first of an eight-year, $84 million contract, his 89 points, well ahead of Jamie Benn’s 72, have Kane accounting for nearly half Chicago’s scoring—and easily on pace for career highs in goals, assists and points.

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“He’s been able to find that pattern, that consistency, that we all strive for,” says Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. “Good players are going to have good nights, but there’re stretches where you won’t have much of an impact. He just seems to make an impact every night. It’s incredible.”

Indeed, in any other year, with Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin absent, January’s All-Star Game would’ve been the perfect stage to celebrate Kane’s wholly realized talent. Instead, during introductions to Saturday’s skills competition, Kane predicted that he’d be booed—and was. Amid the jeers thundering down during his on-ice interview, some voices in the stands could be heard chanting, “No means no!”

Afterward reporters gathered around Kane’s locker. He’d been prepped: The day before Daly told the Chicago Tribune that the NHL’s inquiry into the rape accusation, which started only once the DA’s ended in November, was “ongoing.”

“Whatever they need [from me], I’m here for them,” Kane said.

By the time the Blackhawks visited the White House on Feb. 18, the NHL still had made no announcement. Perhaps it was just coincidence, but when President Obama greeted his hometown team in the East Room—gold drapes and crystal chandeliers, Marines in dress blues—there was no mention of Patrick Kane. The president couldn’t resist taking a jingoist jab, boasting that, come the state dinner with Canada, he might leave the Cup in the middle of the room “just to gloat a little bit.”

But though Kane is now on track to become the greatest American hockey player of all, and gunning this season to become the first Yank to win both the Art Ross and Hart trophies as the NHL’s scoring leader and MVP, the nation’s first trash-talker passed on crowing about that. Kane shuffled in for the ceremony, head bowed, and took his place back in the second row. It was easy to forget that he was even there.

Reed Saxon/AP Photos

Sportswriters love cause and effect. It’s irresistible. Competition already takes the sloppy unmanageability of life and rams it, like Play-Doh, through a so-satisfying fun factory of seasons and games, timed events and true finishes, until—ta-da!—out they come: heroes, heels, champions, losers. Cause and effect refines the process. It lends the stories we tell about sports an equally tidy arc. No matter that the connection can’t stand up to scrutiny—How, exactly, does an ill relation make one throw a ball better?—one thing must lead to another. Deflategate happened, then Tom Brady began playing great ... and by the time of this year’s NFL playoffs the two narratives had been paired up like gasoline and fire.

A bit of that has happened with Kane. He was accused of a heinous crime, and is now playing the best hockey of his career. Why? The first theory—He came in with something to prove—is easy to dismiss. Kane’s play has trended upward for years; until he injured his collarbone in February 2015 he was, yes, at the top of NHL scoring. And the fact is, until this year he never had chemistry with linemates like he does now with center Artem Anisimov and Chicago’s rookie revelation, Panarin.

But Theory No. 2—The rape investigation scared Kane straight—has gained traction in NHL circles. “I think this was a really valuable lesson for Patrick,” Tallon says. “It scared the s--- out of him. I think he’ll take it as a positive.”

“That was the biggest wake-up call,” says Geoffrion, now a Blue Jackets scout. “We all think that we have the world by the balls and can do anything we want and everything’s going to be hunky-dory. Then something happens where we’re like, Holy s---, I really am that lucky—whether it’s, simply, that we can actually walk, or that we can play at the level that Kaner plays in the NHL. And when I texted him—‘Hey, you just got to learn from this’—that’s what I meant. And I think he knew.”

Kane himself? He’s trying to frame his current level of play as a gesture of thanks. “Guys’ll say, ‘He’s been scared straight,’ but I almost feel like I owe it to other people now,” he says. “Especially the Hawks’ organization, my family, my friends and the people who really supported me and believed in me.”

But even admitting that fear or gratitude can be powerful motivators, something far more mundane is also at work. For six weeks, as the investigation churned, Kane went into hibernation. He didn’t play a bit of hockey, but he worked out for hours, ate well, got his sleep. Most important, he stayed clear of the Buffalo nightlife. He didn’t rendezvous much, if at all, with his South Buffalo crew.

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That’s crucial. It has never been hard to make the connection: Downtime in his hometown hasn’t been good for Kane. His two run-ins with the law happened there in the off-season, and stories about crude incidents involving his posse—-especially during his first heady exposure to big money and fame—still make the rounds. So be it, say Kane’s defenders: You wouldn’t want your nighttime carousing as a 19-year-old to go public, either.

“In college, with my teammates, we did crazy stuff nobody knows about,” says Harkins, Kane’s Honeybaked coach. “Today, you can’t take a piss without someone taking a picture of it. I’m like, ‘Don’t do it! Don’t go back, Kaner. When you go to Buffalo something bad happens.’ ”

But there’s the rub. Kane loves the place. You saw it after the first Stanley Cup win, when he took the Cup on a teary visit to the graves of his grandmothers and one of Tiki’s hockey mates; right after the second, Kane brought a half dozen of his hometown buddies down to the ice to celebrate. When he got home, Kane made sure to touch base at his favorite slice joint, Imperial Pizza, and his youth hockey ice rink. South Buffalo haunts like Potter’s Field and Doc Sullivan’s, where the shots multiply on the bar like mushrooms, couldn’t wait for him to stop by.

Even sober, navigating such terrain can be dicey, especially when you consider that many of Kane’s old teammates have filtered back from the college ranks or the minors. Some are now cops fighting the city’s heroin epidemic; some are still figuring out Plan B. The last impression Kane wants to leave—and the first one South Buffalo has its nose up for—is that he’s gone big time. When Kane warned, “Watch out for me the next week” last summer, he was shooting up a flare for the boys back on Abbott Road: still a regular guy. He thought he could pull it off too.

Not anymore. The summer’s travails, the way the city divided on him, that howling crowd at First Niagara Center all served to lend Kane a bit of clarity. “It just seems like it’s kind of 50-50—and it always has been—whether people like me in Buffalo or they hate me,” he said to his dad last month.

“That’s what they said about Gretzky in his hometown,” Tiki said in response. The message: Greatness spawns resentment.

“I guess that’s just the way it is,” Kane says. “Maybe because I left Buffalo, maybe because I didn’t really grow up in Buffalo so much, maybe because I don’t play for the Sabres. But it’s my home. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart.”

Still, Kane knows he hasn’t helped matters. He has made some personal adjustments: the only cause and effect that matters. He says he’s “tightened a lot of things up.” He says he’s spending every day he can with his longtime girlfriend, Amanda Grahovec. He has stopped drinking. “Yeah, I’m kind of on the sober path right now,” he says. “So, I’ll see where it goes. But I’m definitely happier.”

And everywhere, now, he carries a palm-sized reminder, creased and smudged, the only thing you’ll find in his pants pockets. Kane pulls it out: The funeral card from his grandfather’s memorial. “In Loving Memory of Donald F. Kane, Sr.,” it begins. Midway down is the prayer of St. Francis:

Lord make me the instrument of Thy peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light ...

It goes on. One of Kane’s cousins gave him the card this summer, just after the accusation hit, when he brought the Stanley Cup to Don’s grave. Patrick stares at it often, he says, and each night he prays for God to make him a better person. He and Amanda pray together too: Sometimes he’ll recite the prayer card, sometimes she will. When he’s on the road, they say it to each other over FaceTime.

But maybe it needn’t be so complicated. Printed at the bottom of the card, in capital letters, is Don Kane’s motto. The two words sit inside quotation marks, to help anyone wishing to hear the old man’s voice again. Be good, it says. If that isn’t guidance enough for Patrick Kane, nothing will be.

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