It seems like yesterday that Patrick Kane was breaking into the NHL and considered a rising superstar in Chicago. He's now in Year 12 of his professional career and turned 30 years of age on Monday, which can be a pretty intimidating number for athletes because it often signals the back-nine of their careers.
But not for Kane.
"I still feel pretty good, so I don't think it's that intimidating," Kane said smiling. "But it is 30, so it's pretty crazy how time flies by. I think 30 is still fairly young, especially in today's game, you see a lot of players play into their 40s as well, so just try to maintain what I got going right now and keep it going as long as I can. I still feel fairly young. Sometimes when you get older it's exciting, when maybe you're 18, 19, 20, 21, but now the birthday's seem to be coming faster and faster and more often. It is what it is, but I still feel like I got a lot of hockey left."
Kane isn't showing any signs of slowing down, either. He's on pace to finish with a career-high 49 goals and 101 points this season, which would put him at the 100-point mark for the second time. He's also playing more minutes than he's ever had, and invites it.
"Sometimes I almost wonder if I feel better than I did when I was in my younger 20s," Kane said. "There are so many different things you learn about your body, what works for you. We do a great job at the Blackhawks as far as nutrition, best ways to take care of yourself. I wonder if I almost feel better."
Kane has three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy and a Ted Lindsay Award on his resume yet continues to look for ways to get better. It's one of the main reasons why he’s always in the conversation of best players in the league.
"One of the great things about him is he loves the game," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "He loves to play. He loves getting better. He's always trying new things. He's interested in what other players are doing and incorporating it into his own game. I think he can just continue to get better in different ways. He'll be a different player obviously as he gets older, but there's no reason why he can't keep improving.
"The top guys, the best players, they're competitors. They want everything. They want to do everything that they can to be great. They're never satisfied until they want to be the best player in the league and win the Cup. That's where he's looking at. That's what he's looking for. He takes everything in."
We’re seeing it in other sports where Drew Brees and Tom Brady are in peak physical condition at age 40 and 41, respectively, and are still playing at the highest level they’ve ever played. Hockey is a different sport, but this is the era we live in now where athletes are meticulous about what they put into their body, how they train and study other players, looking for incremental ways to get better in any way they can both on and off the ice.
For Kane, it’s not hard to see him playing into his 40s. Half the battle is mentally wanting to do it, year round, whether it's training and nutrition or preparing for the grind of an 82-game season plus playoffs.
Kane has always been a rink rat and a student of the game, one of the last players off the ice at practice and somebody who could tell you exactly what happened around the NHL the previous night. So it appears that will never be an issue.
Eventually, there will be a point in time where he's forced to hang it up. Father Time is undefeated.
But that won't be any time soon. He's kicking the can as far down the road as possible, believing he still has a lot of hockey left in the tank and high-level ones at that. At this point, somebody might have to drag him off the ice when it's all said and done.
"Where I'm at in my life right now, I'm just really enjoying playing hockey and I'm really enjoying trying to make the best of my game, be the best player I can be," Kane said. "That's where my focus is right now. I know later in life there are some other things that come into play, whether it's family or kids or different things like that. But if you have the motivation and dedication to take care of your body, it seems like it really pays off for you and you can see it with those type of athletes.
"You definitely think about that, and I don't want to say do the same things, but do what works for you. And I think the way I play the game kind of helps too, it's not like I'm running guys over all the time or getting run over. Knock on wood, I'll probably get blown up tomorrow or something now. I think I should be able to do it for a long time."