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The last time the Chicago Blackhawks had the city enthralled with them and the Stanley Cup this close, they were led by a budding, young, blond hockey god.

Bobby Hull was 22 in 1961, and he held Chicago in his palm as the Blackhawks won the NHL championship. Forty-nine years later, looking back on a Cup drought that developed along with a tempestuous relationship with his once former employer (settled in the last couple of years only as the team sought a link to its former glory), Hull sees the parallels with one of leaders of today's team: young, blond, budding hockey god Patrick Kane.

"It was very much the same kind of deal in '61, when we won the Cup," Hull, now a goodwill ambassador for the Blackhawks, told the Chicago Sun-Times. "I figured that was just going to be one of many that we were going to win during our span in the National Hockey League. I was too young to really appreciate how important it was to win that Cup.

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"That's what I'm trying to get across to the kids today: You are so close that if you don't take advantage of this, you may regret it for years to come."

Kane, 21, seems to have been paying attention.

"Yeah, it would be nice to bring a Cup back here," he said Friday, one day before the Blackhawks begin the NHL final series against the Philadelphia Flyers. "But I think if you're thinking about that, especially at this time, you're probably thinking too far ahead.

"I think the biggest thing is not thinking about winning but just enjoying the process of going through it. Enjoy everything you are going through because this is maybe a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us. For some of the older guys, this could be their last shot, so I'm really going to enjoy it."

Make no mistake, Kane's teammates say, he really is enjoying the manic atmosphere that is gripping a city that boasts such charismatic past champions as Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, and Walter Payton and the Chicago Bears.

Forward Adam Burish made a crack on Thursday about Kane making sure his mullet was in the line of sight of every photographer at media day. The reference was to the mini-mullet Kane sprouted for the playoffs, a tribute to the appalling hockey haircut of choice in the 1980s. Kane's is not an over-the-top Jaromir Jagr model, but a more modest version that has his thick, blond curls growing only down as far as the back of his neck.

"I think some girls like it," Kane said, protesting he isn't sure because he has not had time to explore Chicago's many hot spots lately. "But who knows if they really like the hair or who I am?"

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Kane has the impish sense of humour that could make him a hero in a town that loves to embrace its sporting figures. But there is also a wary side, forged in the fallout of a sophomoric incident last summer that resulted in his arrest after a late-night confrontation with a taxi driver in his hometown of Buffalo.

"It's cool; the city is really into the Blackhawks these days. The city is on fire," Kane said. "I think everyone is really excited that we can end this Cup drought. You walk down the street, you're going to get noticed a ton.

"Sometimes, it's a good thing, sometimes, it's a bad thing. I think one of biggest things you've got to be careful about is the microscope is on you the whole time."

However, there is a lot more to Kane than his charismatic image. Admittedly, he loves the spotlight. But he embraces the pressure that comes with it because he wants to be the player who makes a difference.

"The superstars in all sports love the spotlight, they love to be counted on in big moments and Patrick's no different," Burish told the Chicago Tribune. "Elimination games, the Olympics, he always seems to be the best player on the ice when he needs to be."

Kane is the third-leading scorer in the 2010 NHL playoffs (seven goals and 13 assists), six points behind Jonathan Toews, after leading the Blackhawks in the regular season with 88 points in 82 games.

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Cocky is too strong a word for Kane, although he is definitely self-assured, something that comes through when he is asked if the big stage makes him nervous.

"No, I've said this before, I don't really get too many butterflies as far as hockey goes," he said. "You want to prepare yourself as best you can. I think, especially this time of year, you go to bed excited about it. You might even toss and turn a bit but I've never really had a problem sleeping.

"I'm too young for that."

Now, Kane is out on his own and considering life as Chicago's next sporting hero. Carrying the Stanley Cup in the next two weeks will also erase one of the great disappointments of his young life: the United States' loss in overtime to Canada in the gold-medal game at the Vancouver Olympics.

"The Stanley Cup," Kane said quickly, when asked which title means more. "I'd rather win that with a group of guys that have been [together]for three years. In the Olympics, you have a team that's been together two, three weeks.

"It would have been nice to win for our country, but as far as a team goes it's better to win a Stanley Cup."

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More

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