He’s baaaack!

It's not just another game for Kane, despite his insistence it is

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It’s just another game, Evander Kane kept saying, but the way he emerged from the Buffalo Sabres dressing room Saturday told a slightly different story.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/01/2016 (2513 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s just another game, Evander Kane kept saying, but the way he emerged from the Buffalo Sabres dressing room Saturday told a slightly different story.

Grey plaid suit, crisply tailored. Belt and shoes, gleaming patent leather. A silent message, loudly delivered: it was definitely not a track suit.

“It’s just another game,” he said then, but nothing about the lead-up to Sunday’s matinee at the MTS Centre felt particularly normal.

Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press Evander Kane at practice with Buffalo Sabres teammates at the MTS Centre for upcoming Sunday game against the Winnipeg Jets, almost a year after he was traded by the team.

Forty minutes earlier, Kane’s fellow ex-Jet Zach Bogosian sauntered off the ice and met with media, still in sweat-damp gear. After a Sabres team meeting, other players padded through the visitors’ area in athletic shorts, cocking an eyebrow at the gaggle of reporters clustered in the hall.

“You want me?” captain Brian Gionta called, laughing as he made his way off the practice ice. “You want me?”

No one took him up on the offer. Instead, reporters chatted with Bogosian, then waited; they peppered Sabres coach Dan Bylsma with questions, then waited some more. They waited until it was time for Kane, and for “just another game,” and to watch the 24-year-old forward stop himself from giving much more away.

It was, he stressed again, just business as usual.

“It’s an afternoon game, so it’s a little different that way,” Kane said. “But I’m going into it preparing as if we were playing any other team in the league. We’re on a six-game slide here, so I’m looking for two points.”

Yet on this weekend, his first time back at the MTS Centre since the Feb. 10 trade, it feels as if there is so much more to say. In the 11 months since Kane was swapped to Buffalo along with Bogosian, for a package including Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford, Kane has spoken up about what went wrong in Manitoba.

Not here, though. Saturday, the forward was more circumspect when asked about his rocky history with the Jets, about what it was that didn’t fit.

“I think sometimes in pro sports it happens more often than not, certain things just don’t fit,” he said. “A prime example of that, you see (Ryan) Johansen and Seth Jones just getting flip-flopped with one another. It just goes to show that sometimes a new scene can help.”

On that note, was he joking or serious when he told Barstool Sports he’d want to fight Jets leaders Andrew Ladd or Blake Wheeler?

“I guess you can take it whatever way you want it,” Kane replied. “It’s up for you guys to determine.”

Or, given that he told The Hockey News he asked for a trade from the Jets each year, why did he always duck that question when it was asked here?

“Hockey’s a business, and business is handled in different ways,” he said. “At that point in time, it was best for business. So, that’s why.”

So that’s it then, it’s just business, and Sunday’s matchup is just another game. Except it isn’t quite, of course — or at least not outside the boards.

In Winnipeg, fans proposed chants to hurl at the player. A popular movement dubbed the game Track Suit Night and spread plans to wear that athletic attire to the game, a nod to the infamous report of a dress-code violation days before Kane was traded. (“I have no reaction to that,” Kane said.)

More heavily, the tilt comes just two weeks after The Buffalo News reported Kane was the subject of an open sexual-assault investigation, one triggered when a young woman turned up at a Buffalo hospital early Dec. 27 with “signs of trauma on her body” and little memory of what happened.

Authorities told reporters the investigation could take weeks. Kane has not been charged, and in a brief statement said he had done nothing wrong and intends to clear his name. Still, the news hangs as a far more serious unanswered question than any of the rumours that once flew around Winnipeg.

So it cannot be business as usual, cannot be exactly like any other game. Besides, Bylsma said, the first time he met Kane in early June, they talked about what would happen Jan. 10. The coach did not remember who raised the topic, but he smirked a bit when he recalled it.

If anything, he said, the “warm reception” fans have planned could spark both player and the struggling Sabres.

“He’s going to have some emotion, and he’s going to be revved up,” Bylsma said. “I don’t know if you can calm that down… He’s going to want to come back in here, and have something to prove.”

And maybe he does, or maybe he will. But 30 minutes later, Kane met the same reporters and downplayed the significance of that conversation.

“We were talking about some of the rivalries we’ve had in the past together, me and Dan,” he said.

“So I think it came up, but as I said, just another game.”

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

History

Updated on Saturday, January 9, 2016 9:22 PM CST: Updated story and added sidebar on Bogosian.

Updated on Sunday, January 10, 2016 1:19 PM CST: Storify added.

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