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When Blackhawks star winger Patrick Kane visits local ice arenas, he often thinks about his time as a young hockey player.
"At the Sabres' old arena, I met some of the players," Kane said, referring to the NHL team in Buffalo, New York, where he was born. "It's kind of surreal when you do meet a pro athlete. You look up to them. It's exciting for young kids."
Kane, along with Gatorade, unveiled a surprise locker room renovation Monday afternoon at the Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood.
Members of the St. Jude Knights - a nonprofit youth hockey organization with multiple teams - were in the locker room as Kane entered.
The two-time Stanley Cup champion was just as nervous as the kids he had just surprised.
"I was nervous because I thought they wouldn't know who I was," Kane said. "When I walked in, obviously, they were pretty excited. They probably were shocked a pro athlete would show up here."
Danny Reardon, 13, of Oak Lawn, is an alternate captain with the Knights.
"This is amazing. This is the best thing I've seen in my life," Danny said. "I couldn't think of anything because my brain flatlined."
Katie Manning, 11, of Chicago's Beverly community, is a defenseman on the Knights. As was the case with her teammates, shock turned into excitement when she saw Kane, who was the winner of the 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy, which is awarded to the player deemed most valuable to his team during the playoffs. Katie happened to be wearing a Patrick Kane T-shirt under her St. Jude hockey sweater.
"I thought it was really cool. It just surprised me," Katie said. "I was really surprised when he first walked in."
In winning the Stanley Cup in 2010 and again in 2013, the Blackhawks have generated a surge in interest in youth hockey.
The Southwest Ice Arena locker room makeover consisted of updated benches, freshly painted walls in the Knights team colors - green, black and white - plus new shelves, along with Gatorade coolers, towels and squeeze bottles.
Each locker was stocked with Gatorade Recover Whey Protein Bars, a refueling solution for athletes.
The young hockey players at Southwest Ice Arena aren't the only ones getting new locker rooms, as Gatorade is providing professional-grade locker room makeovers in select cities. According to Gatorade, each makeover is supposed to provide young athletes with pro-caliber locker room elements to help in their postpractice or postgame recovery.
For more information, visit www.gatorade.com/products/g-series/whey-protein-bar.