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FRESH FACES

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
In early July, when the hockey free agency buzz could be heard from Los Angeles to Newfoundland, four major NHL free-agents inked multi-year deals with the Kings.


Rob Blake, Alyn McCauley, Brian Willsie and Scott Thornton now wear the Kings' purple. Their presence will help bolster a Los Angeles roster that features a nice blend of veteran players and a core group of up-and-coming youngsters.

Of course, the All-Star and Norris Trophy-winning Blake is no stranger to the Kings. One of the elite blueliners in the game, Blake is the highest scoring defenseman in Kings history after originally being drafted by Los Angeles in 1988. He spent 12 seasons with the club beginning in 1989-90 before a high-profile trade sent him to Colorado in 2001.

Thornton and McCauley are not as familiar to local fans but neither are strangers to the Kings players or organization – not with both having competed against the Kings so many times the last few years as members of the San Jose Sharks.

The two former Sharks Thornton and McCauley are both gritty two-way hockey players who, like Blake, were overjoyed with the prospect of playing in this new Dean Lombardi/Marc Crawford era of Kings hockey.

"I was impressed with how Dean and Marc and the rest of the organization pursued me," said McCauley. I think that they have a real commitment to win and to win now."

According to Thornton, the prospect of donning the Kings crest is something that excites him.

"I obviously have a lot of respect for the team and the organization," Thornton added. "Dean Lombardi and I had a great relationship in San Jose and I've seen the great job that he did in building a real competitive hockey team there. I have a lot of faith in him and now with the addition of Marc Crawford behind the bench as well, I'm real excited to take part in the rebuild and hopefully win a lot of hockey games."

While Dean Lombardi is well aware of Blake's experience in L.A., the Kings first-year President/General Manger has a history with both McCauley and Thornton.

Lombardi worked in the San Jose front office from 1990-2003, including serving as the team's General Manager from 1996-03. He signed Thornton, the older cousin of current Sharks center Joe Thornton, as a free agent in 2000 and his trade with Toronto for McCauley in March of 2003 was one of his last moves while with the Sharks.

And while both guys have battled the Kings many times, they too have seen their fair share of Colorado and the intimidating Blake, who owns one of the game's biggest shots.

"My shin sure is happy that I don't have to play against him anymore," said McCauley, 29, with a laugh. "I tried to block as many Rob Blake shots as I could playing against him and I think I've got enough bruises to show for it. I'm quite happy to move on to the next customer and be watching his slap shots go by the opposing team's goalie."

While McCauley, who is known for his competitiveness and leadership abilities, is a past finalist for the Selke Trophy (that is annually awarded to the NHL's top defensive forward), Blake brought to Los Angeles the franchise's only Norris Trophy Award which be captured in 1998-99.

Consistantly amongst the NHL's top defenseman, Blake's effectiveness on the blueline is well documented. He also served as the club's captain from 1996-01 and he was a member of the 1993 Kings team that played in the Stanley Cup Finals.

A member of the Avalanche's Cup-winning squad in 2001, Blake feels that he has some unfinished business with the Kings.

"Any time you start with a franchise, I think your ultimate goal is always to win the Stanley Cup," Blake said. "Obviously, that didn't take place here in LA. I was fortunate enough to be involved in that in Colorado and I learned a lot of things surrounding it.

"I think part of the decision to come back was to bring that attitude over to Los Angeles because the Kings were a team that took a chance on me a long time ago," he said.

As part of the Sharks, McCauley and Thornton reached the second-round of the playoffs this past season. Thornton also in 2005-06 had the unique opportunity to play alongside his cousin Joe, who was a highly successful midseason acquisition by San Jose.

"It was great that I had an opportunity to play with Joe this year," Scott Thornton said. "It was an unbelievable experience for myself and also for our families to have the opportunity to see us on the same team.

"Joe is an incredible hockey player and obviously he has a long and great future ahead of him. For me, I had to make a decision that suits my family and me the best and I look forward to moving to Los Angeles and embracing the hockey club and the city."

While adjusting to the California weather will not be a problem for the 35-year-old Thornton, life on the renowned freeways will present a vastly different challenge if he chooses to continue one of his favorite modes of transportation.

An avid cyclist, Thornton was on his bike and competing in something called "The Death Ride," a 129-mile bike trek that includes 16,000 feet of climbing over five mountain passages south of Lake Tahoe, just days after signing a two-year deal with the Kings.

"Most hockey players ride stationary bikes in gyms or their basements and I had obviously done that for a lot of years," Thornton said. "When I moved to San Jose, I had the opportunity to get involved with outdoor cycling and I loved it. It's phenomenal. I've met a lot of good people in that industry.

"Now when I have a chance to ride outdoors and do some hill climbs or whatever, that's what I love to do most. I can't say enough about it. It makes you stronger mentally because you have to fight through the pain that you suffer in your legs and there are a lot of similarities to the lactic acid that we feel in hockey.

"It gives me a really good aerobic base for the season."

Meanwhile, Blake chooses to play beach volleyball for fun. It is not much of a commute for him to the sand, seeing as how he kept his place on the popular strand in Manhattan Beach even while playing for the rival Avalanche. Blake also didn't have to travel far to meet with Lombardi and the rest of the Kings brass at the team's training facility in El Segundo on July 1, the first day of unrestricted free agency.

Ultimately agreeing to a two-year contract, Blake, 36, reflected upon his decision to re-join the Kings.

"I looked at a lot of different things involving my family and my career early on," Blake said. "I also looked at the steps the Kings have taken this summer to improve and to put a new management team in place. The process going forward was something that intrigued me and I'm definitely happy to be involved in it.

"Talking with Mr. Lombardi and understanding the program they want to put forward and the level they want this team to play at, it was something that intrigued me. Being from here with my wife and family, it was a logical and an easy decision for me to make."

And knowing that the Kings didn't finish that far out of a playoff spot was certainly not lost on any of the three new Kings, who will help provide a fresh face to the organization by way of free agency.

"I know at the beginning of last season it was very difficult to play the Los Angeles Kings and, in San Jose, we thought we'd be out of the playoffs and they would be in," said McCauley.

"I don't think that a huge change is needed, but I feel that we'll be a competitive club and that's really what we are looking to get out of it."

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