This week, a group of 48 players will meet near Washington D.C. for the U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team’s orientation camp.
These players, who won’t be taking the ice but will take part in several meetings and various team-building activities, come from a slew of different NHL teams, and the Chicago Blackhawks are represented by three players: Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad and Nick Leddy.
Obviously out of the three players, Kane is the one who is a slam dunk to make the roster. He was a solid player for the team in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, in which the U.S. won a silver medal, and he surely will seek to deny teammate Jonathan Toews and Team Canada a shot at repeating their gold medal performance from those games.
The other two players are more likely just there to become acquainted with the United States’ General Manager David Poile, as well as USA Hockey’s operations when it comes to the Olympic team. We could go on about their chances at making the roster, but the focus instead should remain on Kane, who with two Stanley Cup championships and a Conn Smythe Trophy to his credit over the last four NHL seasons, has quickly become one of the most dominant players in the US arsenal.
The question, then, is a simple one: Is Patrick Kane, so beloved by fans in the Windy City and such a lightning rod for discussion among NHL fans in other markets, the face of hockey in the United States?
The case for Kane is a compelling one. In addition to the accolades and championships previously mentioned, Kane is coming off the arguably best season of his career. He tied for the team lead in goals with 23 tallies, and he led the team in assists with 32 this season. His 55 points fell just shy of the 60 that Art Ross winner Martin St. Louis accumulated, and when you combine his on-ice play with the off-ice strides in maturity that accompanied it, then it isn’t at all surprising that Kane has become a superstar in the league.
Fortunately for Team USA’s Olympic chances, there are several other players who are legitimate contenders for the “Face of America” role. Zach Parise, who signed a massive contract with the Minnesota Wild before the NHL lockout last offseason, is another prime contender, with 18 goals and 38 points last season en route to helping the Wild to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
His teammate Ryan Suter is another possible contender for the spot. His 28 assists led the Wild in that category, and he also considered the front runner for the NHL's Norris Trophy, given to the league's best defenseman (the award ultimately went to Montreal's PK Subban).
It’s also possible that Team USA’s best player is a goaltender, and Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings could certainly fill that role. His dynamite play helped the eighth seeded Kings to an improbable Stanley Cup championship in 2012, and he led his team back to the Western Conference Finals last season.
What all three of those players have in common, however, is that they fell victim to Kane and the Blackhawks during those playoffs. Quick is especially familiar with Kane’s penchant for clutch play, as he surrendered a hat trick to the Hawks’ sniper during a Game 5 loss that eliminated the Kings and sent the Hawks to the Cup Final.
The truth of the matter is that when you combine the flair with which he plays the game, the quality of his playoff performances, and the emerging maturity that is redefining his image in the minds of Chicago fans (and is catching nationwide notice, for that matter), then there is no other conclusion than to say that Kane is the face of hockey in the United States.
Guys like Parise and Quick may be able to match Kane if this were a question simply of ability, but when you factor in the star power, as well as the allure of playing for one of the game’s most storied franchises, then Kane is without equal in this discussion. At only 24 years of age, Kane is (hopefully) far from finished in this league, but when all is said and done, then he may end up usurping guys like Mike Modano and others as the most legendary American to ever lace up a pair of skates.
*This article has been corrected. Originally, we gave the 2013 Norris Trophy to Suter, but it was actually won by Subban. We regret the error.