ROB BLAKE JERSEY RETIREMENT: In part 3 of a multi-part series on the Los Angeles Kings retiring superstar defenseman Rob Blake’s jersey number 4 on January 17, Kings television color commentator Jim Fox, who covered Blake’s entire career with the Kings, spoke exclusively with Frozen Royalty. He shared his memories of Blake’s career and his impact on the organization, then and now.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — Early in the broadcasting career of former Los Angeles Kings right wing Jim Fox, who is now in his 25th year as the team’s television color commentator, a tall, lanky defenseman named Rob Blake began his ascent to becoming one of the elite defensemen in the National Hockey League in 1989-90, Fox’s first season behind the microphone.
Blake played in just four games for the Kings that season, but made it to the NHL for good the following year and never looked back
Tonight, Blake’s jersey number 4 will be retired by the Kings.
Fox had the opportunity to cover Blake’s 14 seasons with the Kings, along with more than four seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, where he won the Stanley Cup in 2000-01, and two seasons with the San Jose Sharks, where Blake ended his 19-year NHL career.
Despite the passage of more than twenty years since Blake broke into the NHL, the memories are still quite fresh for Fox.
“The first thing I think of with Rob is power—the way he approached the game, and certainly the body checks, the slapshot,” he recalled. “Everything was done with extreme power.”
“[Blake’s] ability to turn from that backwards skating position to glide over and catch guys [for a hit], a lot of that has to do with explosive power,” he added. “He came across—after awhile, you have to assume that everyone knew it was going to happen, but they couldn’t stop it. He was just right there in their faces.”
That hit was rather unique because unlike most players, Blake always used his hip, or rear end, to deliver what was often a devastating hit.
“He had that technique, which he said many times that he developed in college because he hurt his shoulders and he had multiple surgeries, so he had to find another way to be physical and effective, but without leading with his shoulder,” Fox explained. “So it became the ‘backside Rob Blake hit.’”
“That’s interesting, unto itself, to show the athleticism of having to change a complete technique, but still being, not only effective, but as good as anyone at doing it,” Fox elaborated. “Even when he he’s not hitting you, you have to be aware. He broke up as many plays without making contact as he did with contact because you’ve got to have your head up, in self-preservation [mode] out there, because he’s going to level you.”
Delivering all those big hits did not come without a price—Blake had to fight more than most would probably remember.
“You probably had to do it way more back then than you [would] now, but when he first came in, he was not afraid to drop the gloves,” Fox recalled. “I wouldn’t say it was a lot of times, but I remember a couple of times, as a lefty [even though he was a right-hand shot], he surprised a lot of guys.”
“The game was played more that way back then,” Fox added. “It was a bigger part of the game where, as a big, strong defenseman, throwing the hits that he did, sometimes you just had to drop the gloves. That was part of it because the other team would say, ‘if you’re going to do that, if you’re going to hit us, you’re going to have to drop the gloves and go at it.’ He had no problem with that part of the game.”
When asked to name a player who could come close to matching all the skills or weapons Blake possessed, Fox gave a surprising response.
“I ran into Ray Bourque a couple of times on the ice, and he was surprising in his balance and power—strength,” said Fox. “Rob had a different kind of body—Ray was built more to the ground. Rob was lankier, which, to me, makes it even more impressive with Rob, because the taller guys can’t necessarily do that. That’s a technique, a skill that he learned, honed and changed.”
“Ray was solid,” added Fox. “You couldn’t budge him. He was known more for getting that wrist shot through, the elegant approach, smooth skater. Rob was more that explosive power, in your face, and the big slapshot. But that power—when you experience it on the ice, that’s when you get a first-hand knowledge of what’s going on.”
Like the Kings’ current players, Fox pointed to Blake’s humility as one of the reasons he has received so many accolades.
“He was always a quiet guy, very humble,” Fox emphasized. “I would pick up on his strengths by talking to his teammates. I’ve said it before, when you have a conversation with someone, when they look you in the eye, and every time a teammate was talking about Rob—you go up to them and say, ‘tell me about playing with Rob.’ They would look you right in the eye and talk about his strengths, what he [meant to the team], and certainly more so than we could see in the locker room, how he would send a little bit of guidance [in the direction of] someone who needed it, or he would take charge.”
“Those are things I had to pick up from his teammates because Rob was too humble to talk about that stuff,” Fox added. “But when you talked to his teammates, you knew immediately how much they respected him.”
As gifted and skilled as Blake was, he never got much credit for how much helped his teammates, as Fox alluded to when discussing his humility.
“Now that I see him back [with the Kings as their assistant general manager], I see more of the things I probably didn’t see when he was playing, which was attention to detail, how he understands the game, how he communicates the game, and how he can take, on the ice, what he was doing, to help someone else,” said Fox. “When I see him now, I get to see an element of his personality that I didn’t get to see [when] he was a player, which is more of a communicator. He’s talking to players—he’s giving guidance. Then, when I talk to those players, it’s about the details that Rob’s able to share, how he communicates it, and how he gets down to their level.”
“Remember, Rob’s a Hall of Famer,” added Fox. “Players aren’t going to play like Rob. They’re probably not capable of playing like Rob—most of them, so his ability to take certain aspects of games and then teach that, is very impressive.”
“Even when I talk to him now, he just seems to be a lot more studious in how he approaches things, and maybe that’s the case because when you’re a player, you’re just playing. You take everything in and then go and put it on the ice. Now, he has a chance to share that with someone else, and that’s a big plus for the Kings.”
Blake’s humility fits the Kings culture like a glove.
“He’s not the show,” Fox observed. “He’s here to help. The first thing I think about with Rob is the power, but how humble he is is the other thing I think about. That only helps because I think it’s safe to say that this entire organization, under Dean Lombardi, is not caring who gets the credit, and I think Rob fits into that perfectly. He doesn’t care about getting the credit. He just cares about helping.”
Fox indicated that there is nothing phony about Blake’s humility.
“I don’t think Rob was putting on a show, or anything,” said Fox. “I think that’s just the way he is, and that was proven because after time, you could figure out if that was a plan or not.”
“It’s not a plan with Rob,” added Fox. “That’s just who he is. He’s an old time hockey player who played in that ‘transition era,’ where he was an extremely skilled defenseman—the passing, the shooting, the hitting, skating. His ability to turn—he would be skating backwards, now he’s got to slow down, decide when to stand up and turn around to make the devastating hit. That involves a lot of skill.”
Rob Blake Jersey Retirement Coverage
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