By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) On a team full of stars, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have always been the face of the Blackhawks ever since they were drafted in consecutive years in 2006 and 2007.
An elite pairing together, the two are very different, but have formed the ultimate big brother-little brother relationship over the last five years in Chicago.
It hasn’t been without rivalry either. In their rookie seasons back in 2007-08, the duo battled it out for the Calder Trophy, with Kane getting the edge over Toews after leading the Blackhawks in points.
Of course, two years later, it was Toews winning the coveted Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, despite Kane scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to give the Blackhawks their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
Now, three years after winning the Cup in 2010, Kane and Toews are back in the Stanley Cup Final — this time older, better, and wiser.
“Certainly the core group has matured to a nice level over the last four years,” head coach Joel Quenneville said at the United Center Tuesday. “I think their experience is going to be beneficial for the guys who haven’t been there.”
But despite all the success early in their careers, it hasn’t always been easy — especially for Kane.
Even before winning the Cup in 2010, Kane was arrested in August 2009 after allegedly assaulting a Buffalo cab driver. He ended up pleading guilty to disorderly conduct. Since then, nothing as serious has transpired, but there have been a fair share of photos floating around the internet of “Kaner” partying — sometimes too hard.
Fair or not, that has led to a reputation of Kane putting drinking ahead of hockey.
“I think he’s always been a little bit misunderstood in someways,” teammate and assistant captain Duncan Keith said. “I mean, every guy likes to go out and have fun, especially when you’re a young guy. He’s no different. Sometimes it just kind of got caught on camera or pictures and things like that. Maybe one incident kind of sticks out in people’s heads. To me, he’s always been a good guy, a good teammate.”
The most recent notable incident happened in Madison, Wis. in May 2012, shortly after the Blackhawks were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round for the second consecutive year. Photos emerged of Kane enjoying himself at Madison’s Mifflin Street Block Party, with one photo appearing to show Kane asleep at a bar.
How much the team stepped in from that point is unclear, but what is clear is that Kane has been a much more focused player this season. The stories of his escapades around Chicago have diminished greatly and it hasn’t been hard to notice the winger’s maturity grow, even while just interacting with the media.
“I feel like I’m more focused about hockey now,” Kane said Tuesday.
His teammates have noticed too.
“Now he’s got a girlfriend and you can tell he’s 24 and turning 25,” Keith said. “He’s not 18 or 19 anymore. It’s kind of fun seeing him and Toews get a little bit older now and have girlfriends and they’re starting to stay in on Friday night and watch a movie instead.”
But Toews has always appeared mature beyond his years. Following his rookie campaign, he was named captain of the Blackhawks at the age of 20, a duty he has held ever since.
“I don’t think anything in my game has digressed in the last couple of years,” Toews said. “I think I’ve only gotten better and I keep wanting to assume more responsibility in all parts of the rink and I want to improve every part of my game.”
Kane feels the same about his game.
“I think a lot of us that were here in 2010, we consider ourselves better players now,” he said. “I, myself, feel that I’m a well-rounded player, got a lot better defensively and without the puck as time has gone on.”
Known as the youngsters of the 2010 Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks, the duo simply referred to as “Kane & Toews” is now striving to be the veterans of the 2013 Stanley Cup Champions.
Adam is as senior writer and columnist for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Chicago Bears and Chicago Blackhawks. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHoge and read more of his columns here.