Newspaper article The Canadian Press

International Experience for Canada Paved Blake's Path to Hockey Hall of Fame

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

International Experience for Canada Paved Blake's Path to Hockey Hall of Fame

Article excerpt

Blake never said no to playing for Canada

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TORONTO - Rob Blake never liked to say no when Hockey Canada called. Two Olympics and one World Cup of Hockey were no-brainers, but for the defenceman from Simcoe, Ont., so were the world championships.

Blake was happy to go as a 20-year-old in 1991, even when he might have been flying to Helsinki for just one game. Eight years later he told general manager Bryan Murray he wouldn't play before having a change of heart.

"(I) called back the next day and said I'd go," Blake said. "I had said no because I had gone enough and it was a long season and that, but then I woke up the next morning and I'm like: 'What else am I going to do? In two or three days I'm going to be wanting to go anyway.' That was the only time I ever had any hesitation whatsoever."

Blake made a Hall of Fame career out of 777 points in 1,270 regular-season NHL games and then 73 points in 146 in the playoffs. But he was Captain Canada before Ryan Smyth earned that moniker, and his extensive international experience is a major part of why he's being inducted Monday.

One of 25 players in the world and eight Canadian players in the "Triple Gold Club" for winning Olympic and world championship gold and the Stanley Cup, Blake played in 58 games over nine tournaments. That included the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Olympics, 1996 World Cup of Hockey and 1991, 1994, 1997, 1998 and 1999 world championships.

"I enjoy it," Blake said in a phone interview last week. "That's why I think I answered almost every call I possibly could to go and play."

Since retiring, Blake was an assistant under Dave Nonis at the 2011 worlds and then was the GM this past year. At that point it was his job to call players and ask them to keep playing hockey after a long season without a playoff berth or after a first-round loss.

Blake was the poster boy for this, because he didn't have the word "no" in his vocabulary in those situations. Coaches and GMs appreciated that.

"I always felt as coach of the team, the best part of that job is when you called a Rob Blake or players of that ilk and you asked them if they would come and play for Canada and they said they would," said Andy Murray, who coached Blake in two worlds including a gold medal in 1997.

"The commitment that Rob made to play for his country and he's also served now as a manager of a world championship, he's always been there when Canada's asked him."

Hockey Canada president and CEO Tom Renney said it's important even now that a player of Blake's calibre committed to play so many times.

"I don't think anybody's ever doubted Rob's integrity and ability to play the game and his commitment to playing for Canada," Renney said in a phone interview. "It's huge because we're still going to tap on people's doors and ask them to participate and when you have men like the quality of Rob Blake and others that are willing to put the jersey on and go play, that speaks volumes as to how much playing for your country means for those guys."

Current Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Johnston, who had Blake at three different world championships, knows he's different than most Canadian players who participated.

"For players that go once or twice, then they say, 'Well, I've gone a couple times, maybe it's somebody else's turn,'" Johnston said Thursday. "But Rob Blake, every time we asked him, he came. Every single time. And a lot of guys will say, 'Well, it's getting close to an Olympic year, maybe I'll go.' He would go four years away from an Olympic year. He's an impressive guy that way."

Playing defence in an era that included Hall of Famers Ray Bourque, Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Chris Pronger, Blake was a constant on the Canadian blue-line. He was never a candidate for world juniors because he was a self-professed late bloomer and went the college route to Bowling Green.

But after his first full NHL season with the Los Angeles Kings, Blake joined Canada at the worlds for just two games and got a taste of international hockey. …

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