San Jose Sharks winger Evander Kane is no stranger to controversy. The former Winnipeg Jet and Buffalo Sabre has found his way into the plenty of headlines over the course of his nine year NHL career, but not always for the right reasons.
Stemming mostly from a series of assault and then sexual assault allegations against him in 2014 and then in 2015, Kane’s reputation around the NHL precedes him. It’s worth noting, however, that both charges laid against Kane were eventually dropped. Still, the “bad boy” image persists. Of course there’s also the infamous “track suit incident” in which former Jets teammate Dustin Byfuglien had reportedly gotten so frustrated Kane that he threw his track suit into the team’s showers. Kane had mistakenly violated the Jets’ dress code by not wearing a suit to pre-game meetings. A major “no-no” with many NHL players, including the veteran Byfuglien. Kane was traded to the Sabres not too long afterwards.
All of this is to say that Kane has had a bit of a bumpy ride around the NHL… but he’s glad to have landed in San Jose, the seemingly perfect landing spot for himself. The Sharks, and the Bay Area in general, don’t mind their athletes showing a little personality… after all this is the team that signed Brent Burns to a long-term deal. Another major factor in Kane’s smooth transition to the West Coast: the area’s diversity.
In his latest column for The Mercury News, Sharks beat writer Paul Gackle, goes one on one with Kane to talk about his tumultuous time in Winnipeg and Buffalo and gain some perspective on what it means to be an outspoken black man in a predominantly reserved white sport.
“If you don’t acknowledge (the racial element) to some degree, you’re living in the shadows,” says the now 26-year-old Kane. “It’s an older mentality and something that (hockey) hasn’t caught up to. There’s nothing wrong with lights, camera, action and embracing the entertainment side of sports. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough guys who want to do that or think it’s important to do that. If you look at the four major sports, that’s why hockey ranks fourth.”
While Kane was careful not to throw the entire population of Winnipeg and Buffalo under the bus, he did acknowledge that playing hockey in those two cities was a challenge for himself.
“I was in Atlanta [with the Atlanta Thrashers] for my first two years and those were very smooth years. Then, we got sold to Winnipeg and things changed. I didn’t change, so it’s interesting how things happen,” Kane said, adding: “It’s great that San Jose is so diverse. I’ve heard nothing but positive things.”
As for his new team, they’re happy to have the big, powerful and speedy winger on board, baggage and all.
“We have a group here that freely expresses themselves in what they wear, their beards and everything else,” Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said. “This is definitely a welcoming environment to express yourself that way.”
“There’s a lot of personality in this room. Burnszie, Jumbo, obviously, you see it and it’s great,” said DeBoer. “I think it is a pretty-accepting group.”