At Patrick Kane's Stanley Cup party last summer in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., the Blackhawks star stood in front of 500 of his closest friends and acknowledged his best buddy, the guy Kane always counted on growing up.
Donald Kane, who lived one house away, proudly rolled up in a wheelchair to accept the No. 88 jersey with the family name on the back his famous grandson presented him. As deftly as Patrick handles a hockey stick, the night's guest of honor turned the occasion into a tribute to his beloved grandfather.
"We thought it could be his last one so we gave him the spotlight because he was going to be 88 in the coming year,'' Kane told the Tribune on Thursday from Buffalo. "It hit a lot of people's hearts how I talked about what he meant to me that day. It was a pretty cool moment.''
That fond memory represents one of many Kane shared with loved ones Thursday after taking a red-eye flight from Los Angeles following Wednesday night's victory in Anaheim to connect back home in time for his grandpa's wake. Donald Kane, a prominent local government servant his family says could trade barbs with the best of them, died Monday. He was 87.
"One of the most well-respected men that I've ever met,'' said Patrick, who will miss Friday night's game against the Coyotes to attend the funeral. "Everyone liked him. Even up to his passing, he was always sarcastic, joking around, taking a shot at someone.''
Patrick copied Donald's quick wit and as a kid developed a strong bond playing cards and swimming in the pool every summer. As it became apparent young Patrick's rare hockey skills might take him places, it was Donald Kane who worried more about the prodigy's backup plan.
"We laugh about it now but my dad (Pat Sr.) would come back from a tournament and say, 'Pat had a pretty good game,' '' Kane recalled. "And my grandpa would be like, 'Yeah, great, but how are his grades and is he being a good kid?' ''
Nothing made Donald prouder than seeing the fair-haired boy next door blossom into one of the NHL's most dynamic players.
"My parents, and even my dad's brothers and sisters say it: I kept him alive for a few years just by playing hockey because he loved watching my games,'' Kane said.
It was two hours before Monday's game against the Kings that Kane received the news. He was walking into the Staples Center wearing headphones when a call from his mother, Donna, interrupted music playing from his smart-phone.
"I sensed something might have been up,'' Kane said. "She said, 'I'm sorry to call before the game but we should tell you grandpa passed.' ''
Consciously, Kane kept the information from teammates to keep himself together. So he focused on the Kings as if Donald still were watching. And 62 seconds into the game, Kane was convinced Gramps still was.
"It was pretty amazing I scored a goal the first time I touched the puck,'' said Kane, who added another one later. "Pointing to the sky after the goal wasn't anything I had planned. Just kind of the way it happened.''
The same goes for Kane's teary postgame comments that stirred Chicago's soul. Once his voice cracked and his eyes moistened, Kane was reminded why he never discussed his grandpa's death before the puck dropped.
"It really started hitting me when people were sending their condolences,'' Kane said. "I didn't expect to break down. I thought I was perfectly fine. I started answering a question and it hit me all at once.''
Once Kane's head cleared, he knew where he had to be Friday despite how difficult his decision was. It helped that Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville gave their blessing.
"My dad even said, 'Pat, you've done enough for Grandpa that if you want to stay with the team, we understand,' '' Kane said. "I just thought when you lose someone so close to you it's the right thing to do. You never want to miss a game but I think under these circumstances it's a little different.''
Hockey reality returns soon enough. On Saturday, Kane will fly to Newark, N.J., where he will meet members of the U.S. men's Olympic hockey team. On Sunday, they take a charter flight to Sochi, Russia.
"This would have been even worse if it happened when I was in Russia,'' Kane said. "I'm excited. In Vancouver (for the 2010 Games) I was 21, kind of young and naive to what it meant to play in the Olympics. I'm older now. I know a little more.''
During one of the most trying weeks of Kane's career, that has been obvious.