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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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Whenever the National Hockey League gets back to playing games, Evander Kane is hoping to see a little more personality.

"It's part of hockey culture to shy away from a lot of things," the San Jose Sharks forward said. "The more we embrace uniqueness and people's differences and use it to our advantage, [then] the greater our league is going to be."

Kane is certainly doing his part. On the ice, he's not afraid to stir the pot and engage with opponents like Vegas' Ryan Reaves. Off the ice, he's willing to voice his opinion, like when he criticized NHL Player Safety in February. He's active on social media and happy to do interviews with regular media. 

But the 28-year-old, who posed nude for last year's ESPN body issue, is the exception and not the rule. 

​​"I wouldn't say there's a ton of guys lined up willing to do their own reality TV show or wanting to be in front of the camera at all times, so that's on us as players to want to embrace that side of the game a bit more and help the sport grow a bit more especially when it comes to the United States," Kane said. "People need to see our faces; people need to know who we are because, as biased as I may be, I think hockey's the greatest sport by far on earth and we don't get enough credit as players and our league doesn't get enough respect for what we do."

Kane stresses it's up to the teams, league and individual players to all do their part. One easy change that could be made, he said, is relaxing the league's dress code. 

"It's a way to integrate another industry into our sport," Kane said. "To be able to bring fashion into hockey would be huge. It would help promote the league, it would help promote us as players and you would be able to showcase your personality as an individual. There's nothing I like more than getting dressed up in a nice suit, but it's also nice to be able to maybe wear something outside of that too. You can market not only yourself, but the league and your team and create more attention on our sport."

If the season resumes in the coming months it will likely be without fans in the stands, which could provide another opportunity to show off personalities. While there is some concern about unsavoury chirps making it onto television due to the lack of ambient noise in the buildings, Kane thinks it may actually be something viewers enjoy. 

"I don't know if you can put it on players and tell them to watch what they say, because no matter if there's fans or not, you're in the heat of the moment and those things are going to happen," Kane said. "It would be entertaining ... I think it would be great. I think anything to give a bit more edge to the game that's [still] tasteful creates an entertainment value."

Who are the best trash talkers in the game right now? 

"I don't know," Kane said before breaking into a smile. "I'd probably have to put myself up there. I'd have to say, [Ryan] Getzlaf is a pretty good trash talker, Corey Perry, Brad Marchand, he's pretty good too. It's more of those subtle maybe technical hockey jabs that I like. Something about a turnover or something about someone's skating stride or whatever it might be." 

There's still plenty of work that needs to be done before players get back to exchanging verbal barbs on the ice. Kane spoke to TSN via Zoom this week from his Vancouver home and weighed in on return-to-play scenarios. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.  

What do you think about resuming the regular season in the middle of the summer even though the Sharks aren't in the playoff race?  

"It's interesting, because every team seems to have a different opinion. Teams that aren't in the playoffs, you know, kind of have a sense of, 'What is the point to come back and play five or 10 games or whatever it may be?' For me, personally, I love to compete, I love to play, that's what I'm all about and I think most players would agree with that. If we can find a way to come back in a healthy and responsible way, I think we should do it. We should crown a champion for this year and figure out a way to play a full season next year and get back to that normalcy at the end of next year." 

Would it be tough for players to spend months away from home if that's what's necessary? 

"This is unprecedented, unforeseeable, but guys have plans with their families and families make plans around the NHL schedule. It's a little different being away from your family for three or four months at a time. That's a tricky one. I don't know if that's realistic. So, we'll have to see. That's all going to be part of the negotiation and deal that we, as players, make with the ownership."

We are all getting our sports fix in different ways right now. I know you've been watching the ESPN documentary The Last Dance about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty. What stands out from an athlete's perspective? 

"It was a different age in sports, kind of right before that social media era takes over. It's cool to watch, because when I was growing up as a kid you didn't really understand how big or how great Michael Jordan was. To see it now as an adult, and being a professional athlete as well, it's pretty cool." 

Did you learn anything you did not know going in? 

"A lot. A lot. I didn't understand or didn't know about the disconnect between Michael, Phil [Jackson] and Jerry Krause and the owner. That was interesting. Obviously, I heard stories about how things were back then with off the court type of stuff, but it's cool to see and hear the stories from their mouths and their perspective seeing as they went through it. And the last couple episodes with [Dennis] Rodman were interesting. Really good." 

If there was one hockey team you could get a behind-the-scenes look at, who would you pick? 

"It would probably be in the same era. Maybe the 80s Oilers. I've heard stories. Mark Messier was our general manager for my first World Championships when I was 18 and some of the stories that he shared, you know, people don't know about. Social media wasn't around.  Everything is more publicized and pointed out now. So, back then was a different way of being a professional athlete."  

Jordan's competitive fire is legendary. Who's the most competitive guy you’ve ever played with? 

"We have some pretty competitive guys with the Sharks. Joe Thornton would be up there, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, all those guys are super competitive. Outside of our team, I'd probably say Ilya Kovalchuk. He was a super competitive guy. I know he's maybe not known for that, but he loved to compete and loved to score goals and help his team win. He was all about winning." 

Do you have a Kovalchuk story that stands out that illustrates that competitive nature? 

"Oh boy. Nothing I can share unless it's in a documentary."

The rivalry Jordan's Bulls had with the Detroit Pistons was something else. What's the best rivalry you've been involved with?

"Definitely I would say the Sharks-Vegas rivalry sticks out. Going back to junior, I was on the Vancouver Giants and we had some big battles with the Kelowna Rockets, and Jamie Benn and Tyler Myers were on those teams. Obviously, when you play with Team Canada you have the Canada-U.S. and Canada-Russia rivalries, so had a few of those growing up in the junior ranks and as a professional. But I'd say the Vegas one. That's what that reminded me of, the hatred and the passion between both teams was at an ultimate high." 

Do we need more of that when hockey comes back? 

"For sure ... rivalries in hockey have been going on so far back and I think creating more buzz around them, marketing it better, marketing it more, allowing players to kind of run with it and enjoy that rivalry and not shy away from it, is really important." 

The Pistons had 'Jordan Rules' to deal with the Bulls superstar. Are there different types of rules like that for anyone in hockey? The Pistons didn't want to let Jordan get in the air. Is it like that with Connor McDavid and the speed he has right now? 

"Well, you try to not let him get past his own blueline, but the odds of that happening are very slim. It's hard to compare with what a penalty is now and what a penalty was back then. Really, in minor hockey we had more of that type of stuff. To be honest, I remember certain guys on other teams you would key on and be able to do certain things to them and shut them down, where it's literally following them around the ice the entire time or just keeping the puck out of his hands the entire time. You just saw the competitiveness and the will and the battle that Jordan had to go up against those guys. He was getting murdered in the paint and kept getting back up." 

How did you learn to play the piano? 

"We were required by my parents to play. It was very serious and we practised every morning before school. We took lessons, we were in competitions, both me and two sisters, so it's actually something I'm thinking about picking up again. The fingers aren't as nimble as they used to be, but I definitely enjoyed it and happy my mom made me do it."