Saturday, September 21, 2013

NHL Alumni Interview with Rob Blake

Since entering the NHL in 1967 as part of the league’s very first expansion, from six teams to twelve, the Los Angeles Kings have provided their fans with numerous magical moments to remember and celebrate. The list of stars that have taken to the ice in a Kings uniform is a lengthy one: Rogie Vachon, Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor, Charlie Simmer, Jim Fox, Bernie Nicholls, Luc Robitaille, Marty McSorley, Larry Robinson, Rob Blake and Kelly Hrudey to name just a few.

You may recall that there was also that famous trade that brought one of the game’s greatest players to Los Angeles too. A young man known as The Great One.

There is no doubt that every Kings fan has wanted to take a pass from a legendary defenseman like Rob Blake and break out of the defensive zone to start an offensive attack. Perhaps, you have dreamt of setting up Luc Robitaille for a one-timer in the final minutes of a game to clinch a victory. If either of those scenarios fired up your imagination, then now is your chance to turn your dream into a reality!

From September 25th, through to September 28th, fans of the Los Angeles Kings will have the opportunity to take part in a unique four-day event in Las Vegas - the first annual Frozen Fury Fantasy Camp. Registered participants will play in four games with and against their LA Kings heroes.

To make the event even more memorable, you will receive Frozen Fury jerseys and hockey socks, a Frozen Fury gift bag, VIP tickets to watch the Kings take on the New York Rangers and Colorado Avalanche, as well as entry into the Luc Robitaille Celebrity Poker Tournament. All of this exciting hockey action while enjoying everything that Las Vegas has to offer - talk about creating magical moments to remember and celebrate.

In a recent interview, former Kings Captain and newest addition to the LA front office staff as the Assistant General Manager, Rob Blake, discussed the upcoming event and reminisced about his storied NHL career.

“They have had a fantasy camp in Los Angeles for the past few years,” Rob explained. “But this is the first one that we are going to take on the road to Vegas for four days. We are combining it with a couple of pre-season games between the Kings, the Rangers and the Avalanche.”

“It will be a different type of opportunity for the Alumni guys to mingle with the fans, in a setting that is much more relaxed. Some great names from past will be there and fans get to come and enjoy Vegas and play with the Kings Alumni.”

An event like this fantasy camp not only provides a lot of fun and a tremendous experience for the fans, it is a great way for the Alumni members themselves to reconnect. Schedules get busy with work and family, so having the time to trade stories and catch up, creates a special opportunity for the former players as well.

“A lot of the guys stay in touch, either by email or phone, but they don’t really have time to sit down and chat with each other too often,” he said. “It brings them in for that reason and they also get to enjoy a couple of games between the Avs and the Rangers. It has always been a very good pre-season game with lots of support from the fans from all sides, the Kings, Rangers and Avalanche, so it’s nice to get away and enjoy Vegas, while attending the camp. It should be interesting and a lot of fun for everyone.”

Proceeds from the four-day event go towards the Kings Care Foundation and that adds to the event and adds to the fun too. While camp participants are enjoying their time with some of their favourite LA Kings players, they are lending a helping hand to people in need.

“Kings Care has been around for a long time,” Rob said. “Many of the guys participating in this fantasy camp, the ex-players, have been involved with the Kings Care Foundation for years, throughout their career here in LA. It’s a chance to have fun, play and watch some games, but ultimately, it is to bring money to the charity and help others, and that is great.”

“The Kings have been involved with visits to Children’s Hospitals at Christmas and that kind of thing for years - I remember twenty years ago doing that myself for the first time. It has built up over a number of years and I’m sure it touches a lot of people.”

“That is one of the things the Kings have worked at,” he continued. “Getting out to the fans and being able to give back to different members of the community. Winning the Stanley Cup really put the Kings on the map in this area for good and that has obviously transferred into being able to do more charity events and continuing to help more people down the road in the future.”

After an outstanding career at Bowling Green State University, Rob went on to play 1,270 NHL games with the LA Kings, Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks. A Norris Trophy winner in 1998, he was a six-time All-Star and won the Stanley Cup in 2001 as a member of the Avalanche. Always willing to represent Canada, the Simcoe, Ontario native won gold at the Olympics (2002) and World Championship (1994 and 1997), making him a member of the very exclusive Triple Gold Club.

Drafted 70th overall in the fourth round of the 1988 NHL Draft, Rob explained that his career with the Kings took an interesting turn in the summer of 1988.

“It was an interesting time,” he recalled. “Because I was drafted by the Kings, and then later that summer, the Gretzky trade happened! It has been talked about a lot recently with the 25th anniversary of the trade. That kind of put LA in the spotlight and to be able to join that era and join those great players on the ice at a young age was terrific.”

It was an exciting time for the Kings and their fans, and for a young player like Rob, his rookie season provided a marvellous opportunity to learn from one of the game’s greatest defensemen - Larry Robinson.

“Larry was an idol for me growing up, so to be able to be a teammate of his right away and to watch and learn from him - those were things you cannot learn anywhere else unless you are on the ice with him,” he said of playing with the Montreal Canadiens Legend and Hall of Famer. “I came into the league at 19 and Larry was a 40-year old, 20-year vet of the NHL, with numerous Norris Trophies and Stanley Cup rings. I was very fortunate to have those great players like Larry in the dressing room to help shape me and guide me as a player.”

As fans, we watch the games and see the pressure that players are under as the clock winds down. With three minutes left on the clock and a one-goal lead, we are on the edge of our seat, hoping our team can hang on. Rob was no stranger to those moments, so I asked him, as a Stanley Cup champion, Olympic champion and World champion, what did it take to be on the ice and close out those important games in pressure-packed situations?

“Preparation,” he answered without any hesitation. “I think that when you get into those situations, things just happen because you have prepared yourself to do it. You have gone over those situations a million times on the ice during practise and you have worked on different circumstances and what might happen at the end of a game. Your preparation leads to success because the end result comes from your decision-making.”

Throughout his career, both in the NHL and Internationally, Rob played with several tremendously talented, all-world goaltenders: Kelly Hrudey in Los Angeles, Patrick Roy in Colorado and Martin Brodeur in the 2002 Olympics for example. I asked about the age-old adage that a goal post is a goalie’s best friend - does that make a great goaltender a defenseman’s best friend?

“He is your best friend in the world,” Rob said with a laugh. “When you look at any Stanley Cup champion or Olympic champion, their best player is usually the goaltender. Look at the Kings a couple of years ago with Jonathan Quick, or looking back at my time in Colorado with Patrick Roy and Marty Brodeur at the Olympics. When you have that backbone, it allows the other players to relax and play their game. They know they have that guy back there to stop anything or anyone that gets past them. It is a key for all teams that want to be great!”

With his impressive résumé as a player, Rob’s focus now shifts to finding and evaluating the talent of others as the newly appointed Assistant General Manager in Los Angeles. The Kings captain for five of his eleven seasons in LA, in many ways, it is like coming home again for Rob and his family.

“Yeah, I’ve come full circle,” he said. “I started my career here and always maintained a home here, even when I played in different cities. I always wanted to come back and be part of the Kings. Playing with Luc Robitaille and being really tight with him, watching what he has done with the business side of the Los Angeles Kings and where he has taken it, this was a great opportunity. It is something I definitely want to take advantage of.”

“I will be overseeing the Manchester Monarchs, our AHL team, and overseeing the pro scouting department and working alongside Dean Lombardi. For me, learning from Dean, a guy that has been involved with the Kings for a long time and has a Stanley Cup attached to his name is great; he’s definitely someone I can learn from.”

Sharing a locker room, scoring goals and hearing stories from LA Kings legends like Rob Blake, Luc Robitaille and Jim Fox, while spending four days in Las Vegas - what could be better? Dreams do come true!

There is still time to participate in the first annual LA Kings Frozen Fury Fantasy Camp, but space is limited. For more information or to register, visit www.lakings.com/fantastycamp

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