By the time Patrick Kane calls it a career, he will have left a lasting legacy in the NHL, particularly with US-born players.
Matthew and Brady Tkachuk were 10 and eight years old, respectively, when Kane scored 21 goals and 72 points as a 19-year-old rookie with Chicago.
“I definitely got a taste of some of the stuff he did,” says Matthew, the Florida forward. “My brother and I were always watching his shooting motions, going slow, and just some of the manual things he could do to make plays. I’m a very different player, but some of the skills, the handling of the stick, the cymbal passes, I definitely learned from him.”
“He came into the league and he had slippery hands and arrogance,” adds Brady, the Ottawa captain. “He was definitely a role model for a lot of American kids.”
But beyond the skill, is there something else, any part of that swagger, that the impressionable young American-born players of this generation, like the Tkachuks and Arizona’s Clayton Keller, learned from Kane?
Now in their mid-20s, the Tkachuks and Keller are three of the NHL’s standout players who incessantly chew on their mouth guards, as the Blackhawks star did early in his career. Some who knew them as children insist that, even if unconsciously, they picked up the habit from their favorite hockey player.
“It’s funny to see those guys do it now,” says Kane. “(Matthew) Tkachuk, especially, like the high-profile players who have had success in the league, and they’re chewing on his mouthpiece, and you wonder what the backstory is there.”
In search of that backstory, the athletic he contacted the Tkachuks and Keller to find out if they did, in fact, copy Kane. What we learned is that they were more than willing to rat each other out, but when it came to whether he was the reason they were biting their mouth guards, they were much more, well, cautious.
The Tkachuk brothers met Kane in one of his early seasons with Chicago through their father, Keith, who played with the Blues. At the time, Kane was the boys’ favorite player.
“Every time we got to the age where we started watching more, even though they were the rivals at the time, we always wanted to go to those games and watch it,” says Matthew. “I think my dad knew we supported them, so I don’t think he really cared.”
In fact, it was Keith who put together a photo of the three of them.
“I remember that photo,” Brady recalls. “My dad said, ‘Hey, I’m going to ask you to meet Patrick Kane.’ It was definitely very exciting for Matthew and me.”
They watched Kane’s every move and noted that he was always chewing on his mouth guard, something he had done since his days with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League in 2006-07.
“I started in London because that’s when I first started wearing the visor and I started having to wear a mouthpiece,” says Kane. “Even as a kid, we always had to use them just for rules and stuff, (but) I never really liked using them. I would keep it like in my cage.
“When we He had to start using it, for some reason I started chewing it. It seemed to be a lot easier for me than putting it in my mouth, (which) defeated the purpose of having one in the first place.”
Kane continued to chew on it when he got to the NHL, and it looked “cool.”
“He had it half in, half out, almost like a ‘couldn’t care less’ level, kind of arrogance,” Brady says. “He had that flow in him, too, and the kids undoubtedly modeled themselves after that.”
About a decade later, Matthew broke into the league with Calgary, where fans noted that he, too, used to twist and turn his mouth guard with his teeth.
Would you mind explaining?
“I’m not sure where it started or why,” says Matthew. “Maybe as a little stress reliever. I do not know why I do it”.
Um, could it be because of Kane?
“I can promise I didn’t copy him with that,” Matthew replies. “I’m sure people can make the connection because of him, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I wouldn’t be surprised if some guys, he was his idol and maybe they did it for him. Maybe with some people, but not with me.”
Hand on the Bible?
How about we ask Brady?
“Oh sure,” he replies. “Matthew, I was a Kane fan growing up, so I definitely think it’s partly because of him.”
A couple of years later, Brady was drafted by Ottawa, and it wasn’t long before everyone saw that he was a chewer, too.
“For me, it was a bit of (Kane), but sometimes the mouth guard is so annoying that you don’t even realize it’s hanging out of your mouth,” he says in a kind of half-hearted acknowledgment.
It seemed like a guarantee that Matthew would sell out his brother in this situation, but in typical sibling rivalry fashion, he went a step further.
“I always gave Brady s— when we were younger because he was copying everything I would do,” says Matthew. “So maybe he does it because of me. Who knows?”
There was only one thing the Tkachuks would agree on, which was that Keller, an old friend and now NHL rival, definitely copied Kane.
As part of the 2016 NHL draft class that saw five St. Louisans selected in the first round, Keller was 9 years old when Kane entered the league, quickly becoming his favorite player as well.
“I loved everything about his game: his confidence, his ability to try things no one else tried, and it just drew me to him,” says Keller.
Anything else? Any memories of your mouth guard?
“Yeah, I remember Chicago was playing Detroit, and I think it was Johan Franzen who took it out of (Kane’s) mouth,” Keller says. “He ripped it right off. That was pretty funny.”
But not of Kane chewing on it, like you do now?
“Uh, I don’t know,” Keller says. “I feel like, if anything, you would try to emulate his game more than realize that. I feel like most guys don’t like to have their mouth guard on. You were always told to wear one growing up, but you never actually wore one. You just chewed it up.
So what’s the verdict guys?
“I’m sure that’s why ‘Kells’ does it,” Matthew replies. “I’m sure he did it to copy Kaner.”
That is passed on to Keller, and he is asked if he has anything to say in defense of himself.
“Nothing,” Keller says sheepishly.
An interesting part of all of this is that Kane doesn’t even bite down on his mouth guard anymore. In fact, he doesn’t even wear one. He hasn’t since the NHL’s lockout season in 2012-13.
“I went to Switzerland and forgot my mouth guard, so I stopped using it,” says Kane. “It seemed like it wasn’t a distraction, but you’re just chewing on it while you’re playing, you know, and it’s kind of weird. I found I liked it better without wearing one.”
Keller admits that he noticed.
“Yeah, I watch all his games if I can, so I guess I watched it without using it,” he says.
But it seems neither Keller nor the Tkachuks are ever going to figure out why they keep chewing on theirs.
“I haven’t talked to them about it,” Kane says. “You know, you hear certain things, like Keller really liked him as a player or whatever. You hear other things too, but it’s funny because now they’ve taken that trend and I won’t do it anymore.”
(Matthew Tkachuk Top Photo: Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images))
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