Champagne wishes and caviar dreams. That’s what we’re talking about, right? Luxury, elegance, artwork from the masters? Five-course meals and silk robes with a fleet of cars in the garage?
Hey, a mansion is a mansion, right? Uh, maybe not.
“We used to call it the ‘Mansion’ but it was definitely not a mansion,” said Kings defenseman Rob Blake. “It was a little three-bedroom house. I mean little. It was right next door to the campus.”
“Everybody in the whole college knew what that house was about and what happens in that house,” added current Kings’ assistant coach Nelson Emerson. “If you went to it, you knew exactly what you were in for.”
What Blake and Emerson are referring to is the famous – or is it infamous – Mansion on Manville, Bowling Green University’s unofficial hockey headquarters during most of the 1980s and early 1990s. An unassuming, one-story house at 241 Manville, the place became home to many of that program’s top players, including a few who went on to the NHL.
“We got lucky,” said Emerson. “We got that house handed down to us. Once that happens, you have the job of making sure it holds all the parties.”
The Mansion had a revolving door policy, meaning when one Falcon graduated and moved on to other things, a new one would simply take up residence. The owner didn’t seem to care who was there as long as the rent was paid.
But what the Mansion may have lacked for in, say, cleanliness or maybe even food, it more than made up for in togetherness. Although they were friends before they became roommates, the bond between Blake and Emerson was solidified while attending Bowling Green and living, and perhaps surviving, in the “Animal House” setting.
And today, they consider themselves practically brothers.
For Emerson, going to Bowling Green was a no-brainer. He grew up in the little town of Waterford, Ontario, 40 miles or so southwest of Hamilton. In his first year with Bowling Green, Emerson led college freshmen in goals (26).
Meanwhile, back in Emerson’s old Ontario stomping grounds, Blake was also beginning to make a name for himself. Although they had grown up less than 10 minutes apart from each other, Blake having lived in nearby Simcoe, their paths had never crossed. Emerson was, after all, a couple of years older.
|Rob Blake played for the Falcons from 1987-89. |
Blake, like Emerson a few years before him, wasn’t exactly sold on attending college. That all changed after a visit to the Bowling Green campus.
“We showed him a good time on his recruiting trip,” laughed Emerson, failing to elaborate. “There’s no way after what happened to him on his recruiting trip that he could have gone somewhere else.”
And thus, Blake became a Falcon as well…and became exposed to the Mansion.
“The first year you had to remain in the dorm,” recalled Blake. “(Emerson) had moved in (to the Mansion), and I was living in the dorms. But over the holidays, the dorms always shut down, so you moved in with the older guys. I moved in with him. That was my first taste of the place.”
As the two became closer off the ice, they began to gel even more on it. In 1988-89, Emerson was a Hobey Baker finalist. Blake’s posted 32 points himself.
“We played on the power play together,” said Blake, who was taken by the Kings in the fourth round of the 1988 draft. “For me, it was pretty fortunate. He was one of the most dynamic college players of all time.”
Emerson later signed on with St. Louis in 1990. Though a junior, Blake inked his contract with Los Angeles that same year, and immediately found himself in the Kings’ lineup, making his NHL debut the next night.
The next time the two would share the ice again would be as opponents, which according to Emerson, “was weird, but there was also a real sense of accomplishment.” Said Blake: “There’s always a little bit of talking. You can’t talk too much because the coaches will get upset if you’re talking to the other team, but you can always get a word in somewhere out on the ice.”
Over the years, the two kept in close contact. They didn’t, though, get the chance to play on the same team again until four years later when both got asked to suit up for Team Canada at the 1994 World Championships in Italy.
Six years later, they were teammates in Los Angeles.
While Blake had become a cornerstone for the Kings, playing his first 11 years in the league with the team, Emerson earned his travel miles. After three years with St. Louis, he spent two with Winnipeg and three more with the Hartford/Carolina franchise before splitting his time in 1998-99 between the Hurricanes, Blackhawks and Senators. He then signed with the Atlanta Thrashers prior to the 1999-00 season.
All that bouncing around came to an end when he heard the news that he had been traded to the Kings.
“I remember I walked into (the Kings locker room), and we both just started laughing,” said Emerson about his reunion with Blake. “That’s how it was. We knew exactly what this meant for not only us but also our families. Now, we have kids the same age and our wives are the best of friends. It was a real special development, that’s for sure.”
“As it turned out, it was a short time, but it was good,” said Blake. “You see some of these brothers growing up now and playing against and with each other. That was kind of the feeling for Nelson and me.”
The addition of Emerson came at a good time for Blake, who was going through a difficult period with the Kings amid rumors of a possible trade. He would eventually be traded to the Avalanche in February of the following year.
“I had been traded five times and that was the first time he’d gotten traded,” said Emerson. Traded to the Avalanche, Blake went on to help the team win the Stanley Cup. As fate would have it, Colorado’s run that year included a seven-game series against Emerson and the Kings in the second round, admittedly a grueling experience for Blake.
“It was a lot of fun for us to play them, and for me to play him,” said Emerson, “but I know it was a real difficult time for him. During those playoffs, we didn’t talk at all.”
“We talked before the series started and both of us agreed that we’d wait until the series was over,” said Blake.
Now, some five years after they last shared the ice together, the two again find themselves as Los Angeles Kings, albeit in different roles. Signing as a free agent this past summer, Blake not only returned as one of the greatest players in team history, but with a familiar person on the club’s new-look coaching staff as Emerson also this summer re-joined the organization.
The moves heading into this season brought a bit of a new wrinkle to the friendship between Emerson and Blake, that of coach and player. Traditionally, there is supposed to be a certain separation between those giving the orders and those taking them. However, the pair have handled what could be a delicate situation with relative ease.
“I knew that he was going to join the coaching staff before I signed, and that had a lot to do with it,” said Blake. “I went through (this same situation) in Colorado with Tony Granato, who was the head coach there. There are boundaries. You don’t want teammates to get a different opinion. But, everybody is aware that we’re good friends, that we’ve grown up together. That’s not going to change whether he’s a coach or not.”
“I think we are both real professional and we understand each other’s job,” said Emerson. “We allow each other to do that and we respect that. But then, when we’re down on the beach during the summer or on off days or whatever, we tend to go back to our old ways.”
No doubt they’ve come a long way since those memorable days at the Mansion, a place where the door was never locked because, well, they never had a key.
Still, it was there while playing for Bowling Green that a lasting bond was formed. They may have eventually achieved stardom in the NHL and success in their personal lives, but they achieved something else in that beat-up old house on Manville.
They became friends. They became brothers.
-Written by Kurt Daniels for Royal Reign