They may be wearing camo, but these are the two guys that everyone in Buffalo will be watching. Tonight the Chicago Blackhawks bring the best record in the Central division and two familiar faces to town. It will be the first game in Buffalo for Patrick Kane after his numismatic transgressions back in August. Tonight also marks the first time Brian Campbell will wear another team’s uniform in Buffalo.
Now Kane says he expects a mixed reaction, and Campbell famously asked the fans not to boo him a few minutes after he became a Shark two seasons ago. The question is, what will happen when either player touches the puck tonight?
Well, they’re both going to get booed. Perhaps not by everyone, but someone out there will boo one or both players by game’s end; and in a building of 18,690 it’s going to sound pretty substantial. I think to expect a crowd that large to do nothing is the more extraordinary feat. I mean, how much does it say about Alex Kotalik when no one booed the first few times he touched the puck last weekend? Talk about being invisible.
Still, good feelings or bad, Kane and Campbell have hurt Buffalo hockey fans in different ways. For Campbell it was simple: he had a lot of talent in areas that make defenseman tons of money. His wrongdoing was not taking the mythical “hometown discount” and becoming a bit of a head case over it. Hindsight tells us we got a future captain and an excellent prospect out of his tears and 33 games (20+13) of service in San Jose. Personally, I can’t boo that.
Patrick Kane is an entirely different story. What happened on Eastwood in August bruised Kane’s reputation nationally, but especially here in Buffalo. No one has more pride in its successes than a “down town,” and Kane’s first NHL game within city limits was nothing short of a hero’s welcome. People cheered when Ryan Miller let in a goal, something you won’t hear in Buffalo again for another decade. So many loved the kid before he ever accomplished a thing, and after a Calder Trophy and revitalizing an Original Six franchise, the love affair had only grown.
Then he decided to “go downtown” and make bad decisions. Suddenly the hero adds yet another bruise to the ego of an emotional train wreck like Buffalo. After all the praise and pride people put into #88, the soon-to-be millionaire throws it all away over cab fare. We can play the “no one will ever know what happened” card all we’d like, the truth is that the way Buffalonians feel about Pat Kane will never be the same.
So yeah, people are going to boo Patrick Kane tonight. A lot of people are going to cheer, and countless “Blackhawks” fans will still fawn over him in the usual ways. But no matter what happens in the Arena tonight it will feel justified. The truth is that things will never be the same as they were on December 15, 2007. That night Kane returned to a city where we felt he could do no wrong.
Then he went and did.