(TORONTO) -- The media had Jason Blake pinned against the wall, Thursday, both with their cameras and their questions when one reporter got to the heart of things.
“Honestly.” she said. “How tall are you?”
The newest Maple Leaf straightened his shoulder. “Six-foot-three” he said.
Ah, but that wishing could make it so. Jason Blake, ex of the New York Islanders, is actually five nine. He could be called barrel-chested, or could have until they started rolling high school students out that look like inverted bowling pins.
He will be 34 in September, which makes him, should you take the pessimistic view, too old as well as too small.
But there is one thing you should know. Jason Blake’s favourite word, at least if you gauge how many times he used it in his first face-to-face press conference, is survive.
Forget about going downhill. This guy has always been going against the slope.
“I’m not a big guy so obviously I’ve got to do certain things,” Blake said. “Everybody finds their niche in the league, whether they are six-foot-five or five-foot-nine, you’ve got to find ways to survive.”
Blake had that point driven home to him at the University of North Dakota.
“My college coach told me that every day. His name was Dean Blais. He was one guy who pointed me in the right direction. There are certain things you need to do to survive and that’s in any business or anything you do in life.
“If you want to get to the highest thing, you’ve got to get a protocol and follow it. Then you’ve got to do more. You keep doing more. Once you’ve reached your goal, to play in the National Hockey League, you have to keep doing more and as a smaller guy, keep doing more.”
See what I mean?
You would be hard pressed to find a player who came further to play in the NHL than Jason Blake. He was never drafted into the NHL. Think of the legions of untalented bigger players who sat higher in the estimation of NHL talent evaluators than Blake. They would fill every cornfield in Saskatchewan.
He spent four years shuffling between the minors and the Los Angles Kings. The Kings finally traded him to the New York Islanders for a fifth-round draft choice.
He advanced steadily through the ranks in New York, forcing reluctant coaches to deal with him by playing him. The result was four seasons of 22 or more goals, a remarkable feat in today’s NHL, as well as last year’s breakthrough 40 goals.
He made himself one of the most irritating, galling players to face and he did it in front of a sea of empty seats on Long Island.
Jason Blake may never score 40 goals again. He may not need to. And yes, no matter austere the conditioning, hockey players slide backwards with age. But it will take a handful of work and determination from father time, to slow this guy down
“I’m a competitor. I’ll do whatever it takes to win hockey games,” Blake said.
“I’m not going to stand here and say I’m going to score 40 goals again but I’ll do everything I did last year that made that happen. I want to do it more, here in Toronto.
“There are guys out there who are probably better hockey players than a lot of guys in the NHL,” he said. “But they don’t play in the NHL. You know what? The reason the NHL guys are in the NHL is because they did more. They put in the extra time.”
Blake will put in the extra time. He will do what he has always done, which is anything, absolutely anything he needs to do to stick in the NHL.
That’s what the Leafs bought. They know, you never bet against a survivor.