Late in Team USA’s quarterfinal game Thursday, Patrick Kane controlled the puck deep in the Czech end of the ice.
Already having another extraordinary offensive game, Kane had a slight opening and probably thought about getting to the net yet again.
But his team was protecting a 1-goal lead and the United States needed the game to advance to the semis of the World Championships in Denmark.
What Kane did next is worth noting.
He sat on the puck in the corner and killed some time, stickhandling until he had support without ever giving up the puck. He did not fire at the net or try to approach it.
If it sounds unremarkable, it was. If it sounds like the correct play, it was. If it sounds unselfish, it most certainly was that, as well.
It was also not what you might have expected from a player who almost always thinks offense first, regardless of the numbers or the situation.
It was above all else a team play made by the team captain.
The U.S. won the game and advanced to the semifinals, where they lost to the Swedes on Saturday, before defeating Canada for the second time in the tourney and capturing the bronze Sunday.
But from a Chicago standpoint, Team USA’s success this year at the Worlds is less interesting than Kane’s play, which was spectacular.
Kane was the best player in the tournament and quite obviously enjoyed the large ice surface, where he took advantage of his speed and creativity, where it was nearly impossible for the opposition to track him down.
The cynic might suggest that Kane was simply bored, that being out of the playoffs for the first time in 10 years left with him free time, that he needed something to do and a way to burn off all that stored energy.
Maybe there’s some truth in that, but it seems like there’s more to this.
When Kane was named Team USA’s captain, it raised some eyebrows around the game. He’s not what you think of when it comes to team captains, who generally think team and defense first.
The thought was that putting Kane out front would encourage more American players to join the squad, and as a recruiting tool it’s a pretty reasonable idea.
Whatever the motivation for Team USA — or for Kane himself — the result was that Kane played superb hockey and embraced the role of team leader in every way.
He energized the team, spoke for the team and spoke to the team when necessary, while playing well in all three zones, providing a fine example along the way.
It was much more than simply leading the tournament in scoring with 8 goals and 20 points in 10 games, becoming the first player to reach that number since Dany Heatley (Canada) 10 years ago, and the first American to win the scoring title since Bruce Mather in 1949.
“He wants to make a difference in every game. He wants to win. It’s not about his own personal accolades, as much as it is about our team winning,” U.S. coach Jeff Blashill told the NHL Network. “He’s been a captain for us, which he’s obviously not in Chicago. They’re in good hands with Jonathan Toews.
“But certainly Patrick has shown unreal leadership ability for us. That’s what I’ve been most impressed with.
“He’s obviously one of the most talented players in the world, but the leadership and his approach from a team perspective has been the biggest thing I’ve seen.”
Not to overstate a small sample, but sometimes players thrust into an unfamiliar role find that they are more qualified than they knew they were before getting this kind of chance, and it was impressive to see Kane embrace the opportunity.
Kane has always been able to sit back on a Chicago Blackhawks team with leadership in every form, in every corner of the room and in every spot on the ice.
He’s been able to do his Kane thing, focus on scoring goals and making pretty passes.
It’s a nice, comfortable spot where there’s little responsibility, where you only have to worry about yourself.
To leave that comfort zone and have to work at all the things a captain has to do can be exhausting, and Kane did all those things for Team USA and did them well.
Sometimes players take from a new experience an added identity that they hang on to and bring back with them to use in the future, making them better and more rounded players.
There’s no guarantee that Kane — at age 29 and after 11 years in the NHL — will do that, but if he does it can only be a positive for the Hawks.
And they can use all the good news they can find.
• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score’s “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.