By Chris Emma—
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CBS) – Inside a meeting room reserved for Notre Dame's hockey program, a banner was raised Thursday. This wasn't a banner the Chicago Blackhawks would consider relevant during training camp when they hoisted the Stanley Cup back in June. It represented the state of an organization in crisis.
This banner that served as the backdrop for a press conference with Patrick Kane and the organizational brass boasted no corporate sponsorship – just the famed Blackhawks logo. Any team sponsor would want no part of the franchise's mess. Even the water bottles placed next to four microphones had brand labels removed, out of respect to the serious matter at hand. This was the scene in South Bend as a proud organization defiantly dodged questions to allegations of sexual assault involving Kane, its superstar forward.
"We recognize that Patrick Kane is dealing with a very serious situation," Blackhawks team president John McDonough said in his opening remarks. "Based on our discussions with his legal representatives, who are very close to this matter, we have decided to have Patrick join us for training camp here at the University of Notre Dame."
With that from McDonough, the keeper of the Blackhawks' cherished brand, Kane was brought before the media to address the allegations stemming from his actions in the early morning hours on Aug. 2 in his home in Hamburg, N.Y., which launched an investigation.
"This has been an incredibly difficult time for many people," Kane said. "I cannot apologize enough for the distractions this has caused my family, my teammates, this incredible organization, and of course, our fans. While I have too much respect for the legal process to comment on an ongoing matter, I'm confident that once all the facts are brought to light, I will be absolved of (wrongdoing)."
Rather than leaving the room after the careful statement, on message with the entire organization, Kane remained in place – with McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville to his left – and answered questions.
Well, Kane didn't get into details. He simply declined to answer – while appreciating each question.
"I understand the question," Kane said to his first question. "But I'd like to keep to hockey questions only."
Later, when asked about fan reaction: "I appreciate the question and appreciate where you're coming from, but I can't really discuss too much legally at this time."
And after that, when questioned about the decision to attend training camp: "I'd love to get in front of them and face them, but this isn't the right time to do it."
Kane sat in front of reporters and live television broadcasts from Chicago and all across the country and deked questions, deferring to his legal obligations. A grand jury is expected to be presented evidence in the weeks to come, multiple reports have indicated, which could cause Kane to leave the team. His desires to discuss hockey were largely unfulfilled, because there are more important issues back in the Buffalo area.
After nearly 10 minutes of comments, Kane left the room and McDonough began to speak. A polished, poised marketing mind, McDonough followed by speaking of the Blackhawks' accolades, crediting owner Rocky Wirtz and the front office, praising the Rockford IceHogs and even wishing good luck to the Notre Dame football program in its Saturday game with Georgia Tech.
When boasting the Blackhawks' success, McDonough let out an unfortunate comment given the nature of this press conference.
"We're really bad celebrators," McDonough said with a smirk.
The difficult, calculated decision to bring Kane to training camp was brought little clarity in Thursday's press conference. The electrifying hockey player who once scored a game-winning goal to win a Stanley Cup and elated sold-out arenas was reduced to nothingness in a small, crowded room.
Kane addressed questions to the allegations by respectfully declining. He left with his head glancing to the ground, then McDonough took his turn with questions.
When asked about whether Kane attending camp is an endorsement of his innocence, McDonough said: "I'm really not at liberty to comment."
Questioned on how Kane's legal status impacts his future in Chicago, McDonough said: "I'm really not going to address hypotheticals."
Then came an inquiry as to whether McDonough was tone deaf in his statement. He responded, "I can assure you I'm anything but tone deaf."
Of course, that's for the court of public opinion to decide. The legal process will decide the future of Kane. But for now, the defending Stanley Cup champions are back to work at training camp in South Bend, with one of their franchise faces bringing a big distraction and uncertain future.
Later, Blackhawks captains Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook replaced their superiors in front of the media. They, too, were thrown into the harsh realization of how insignificant hockey is for this organization – even as it begins a defense of the Stanley Cup.
"We don't want to sound like broken records up here, but there are going to be times where questions like that can get answered," Toews said.
On Friday, the Blackhawks take the ice at Notre Dame's state-of-the-art hockey facility. On Tuesday, the team will return to the United Center for a preseason game with Detroit. And on Oct. 7 in the season opener, the Stanley Cup championship banner will be raised to the rafters. It was to be a celebration for Chicago's third title in six years, one now marred with awkwardness.
For now at least, Kane will be along for the Blackhawks' journey to repeat as champions. The more important issue that unfolds away from the ice will decide how long Kane's along for that ride.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.
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