ROB BLAKE JERSEY RETIREMENT: In the second installment of a multi-part series covering the retirement of former Kings defenseman Rob Blake’s jersey number 4 on January 17, current Kings players spoke exclusively with Frozen Royalty about the jersey retirement, and about Blake’s impact on the team and the game of hockey.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — With the retirement of former Los Angeles Kings great Rob Blake’s jersey number 4 on January 17, as you might guess, the local media have been buzzing around the team’s practice facility in El Segundo, California, asking about Blake.
But if you look at the roster, only two players actually played with Blake, center Anze Kopitar and forward Dustin Brown, who both played with Blake during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons.
“He was the captain right before I was captain,” said Brown. “We weren’t a good team, but you learned a lot from a guy like that—how he handled himself in the situation of being an older guy on a very young, inexperienced team. He helped Kopi and I kind of grow into the roles that we’re currently in.”
Brown stressed that there is probably no one more deserving of having his jersey number retired by the Kings, and much of that is because of the player and person that Blake was, and still is.
“The two things that stand out to me—everyone says being a pro, and he was the epitome of that,” Brown noted. “He’d come in and he had his things that needed to get done, and they weren’t necessarily hard things, but he’d do them, every day. They weren’t physically hard, but they were, mentally, to do them every single day to get ready to play.”
“The other thing was that he always stood up for the guys in the room, whether it was getting into it with the general manager or the coach,” Brown added. “He said what he thought was right for the group in the room. That goes a long way.”
On occasion, Brown has taken a cue from Blake in that regard, having to speak on behalf of the players to the coach or management.
“It comes up from time to time,” Brown noted. “It’s a fine line. There are instances where things aren’t going right, and there’s different opinions. Ultimately, it’s about the twenty guys in that room.”
Veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr shared a perspective from the outside looking in.
“[Blake] was a guy who was very important, and also one who provided a lot of leadership in the dressing room,” said Regehr. “On the teams that he played on, he was always looked upon to be a guy who was one of the guys in the room that everyone looked up to and gravitated towards. He always wore a letter in his career. He was a very good role model, kind of a player that, as a young, Canadian defenseman, that you could look up to, and try to emulate.”
Although Regehr is not an offensive defenseman, there are parts of his game where he has applied what he has learned from watching Blake.
“As a Canadian kid playing defense [while] growing up, you watched a few players, and [among] some of the more prominent Canadians, he was right there with Ray Bourque, Adam Foote, Scott Stevens—he was another guy I watched, kind of the guys who weren’t afraid to be physical, and be involved with the games,” Regehr explained. “Then, playing against him, you realize that he was a very complete, all-around defenseman. He played every single situation out there. He was out there at the start of the game, first shift, to at the end of the game, if the team had to kill a penalty, or on the power play. He was out there in all those situations.”
Blake stood out among defenseman because so very few have ever possessed all the weapons he had—size, strength, huge hitter, decent speed and skating ability, a hard, heavy shot, a solid, fierce defender with a long reach, a good first pass, and off-the-charts hockey sense.
Today, there is no player who has all the gifts that Blake had, although one comes fairly close.
“The only guy who reminds me a bit of Blakey is Shea Weber,” said Brown. “He’s mean to play against, has the big shot, and plays in all situations.”
“Thankfully, when I came into the league, Blakey was not as physical as he was [just a bit earlier in his career], and the game had changed, so I didn’t have to deal with the mean, physical Blakey as much [after Blake left to play for the San Jose Sharks in 2008-09],” added Brown. “But I got to see it first-hand, with his hip checks, [something] he’s well-known for.”
As Brown mentioned, Blake was never a player who sought notoriety. He shied away from the spotlight—he was always a team guy, and that is still apparent today.
“If you know him at all, he’s one of those guys who doesn’t want the attention,” said Brown.
“[Blake is] a guy, if you look throughout his career, who wasn’t a guy who wanted to be in the limelight,” said Regehr. “That was probably the most important thing in his career. He had a very successful one, and when you do that as a player, all the awards come, and they’re still coming for him now. You see what kind of impact he had on the players, the game of hockey, and on all different levels. He played very successfully in the NHL and internationally, which some people might not have followed down here, but in Canada, we follow it quite closely.”
As the Kings’ assistant general manager, Blake’s experience has been invaluable.
“He’s a guy who’s around the rink all the time,” Regehr noted. “I think that’s one thing that he really misses, as a player, to be around the guys and chat a little bit. I think that’s an important thing, that he’s a part of that because a guy like Drew Doughty, for example, can go to him and ask him. Drew is a guy who plays all those situations, even though they’re not the exact same type of player, they’ve been in similar situations.”
“One thing that really has helped, and it’s much like [former assistant general manager Ron Hextall] was,” said Brown. “They were very good players in this league. For a guy like Drew, to have Blakey as a resource, to go up and talk to, and not have it be a coach-player conversation, because those conversations go differently, sometimes—just having him up there—going up there, chit-chatting. It gives you a different perspective.”
“[Blake has] also been through it, as a player, so you have that respect for him, no matter what,” added Brown. “Maybe it gives a guy a different look, or a different feel. You can’t really measure that. There are times when it just feels good to get something off your chest, and he’s one of those guys you can throw ideas off of about what’s going on on the ice, and he’s separate from [being] in the room, and the coaches.”
Although rookie defenseman Brayden McNabb has not been in the Kings organization for all that long, Blake has already made an impact on how he plays the game.
“We’ve talked a little bit about how he hit, and I’ve watched a few of his hits on YouTube,” said McNabb, who is quickly developing a reputation as a big hitter. “We’ve talked a bit about his style of play, and how he played.”
“He was a world-class player,” added McNabb. “He’s a really smart guy. He’s hockey smart, so whenever you have a conversation with him you take a lot away from it.”
Regehr could not stress enough how important that kind communication is for a National Hockey League team.
“Even a young player like Brayden McNabb, for example, a guy who is very physical, he plays hard, defends hard,” Regher observed. “Rob was a very physical, hard, defenseman when he had to be. Just look at some of the hits he laid out there. He can help [McNabb] there.”
Blake’s ability to help players doesn’t end with the youngsters.
“He can even help a guy like myself or Matt Greene, too,” said Regehr. “It’s just a constant learning process, and you’re never finished. To go to a guy who has a lot of experience, more than any of us in this dressing room, it really helps.”
Rob Blake Jersey Retirement Coverage
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