Jason Blake arrives in Toronto for his second season with the Maple Leafs sound of body and steady of mind.
Those two elements were undermined last season by Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. Blake, signed by the Leafs to a five-year contract July 1, 2007, announced he had the disease October 8.
Once a deadly cancer, CML can now often be controlled by medication. While Blake was only one of four Maple Leafs to play every game, he admits that much of his first season was spent in a fog.
“The biggest thing is my mind has got to be there and I can assure you that it will be,” he said. “I know last year it wasn’t on a number of occasions for some reason, whether it was health or whatever.”
Small wonder. Shocked by a cancer diagnosis, in a new, mad hockey market on a failing club, Blake managed only 15 goals despite 332 shots, 73 more than team runner-up Mats Sundin.
“I couldn’t get it going and when that happens your mind goes in a different direction than your body wants to go,” Blake said. “This year I’ve got energy and I’m ready to go.”
Blake was skipping about the ice at Lakeshore Lions Arena Tuesday during an informal scrimmage. Despite the presence of a handful of Leaf hopefuls such as John Mitchell and Robbie Earl, it was the 41-year-old Curtis Joseph and the 34-year-old Blake who were the last off the ice.
This season, Blake inherits a new situation. No one is promising a playoff spot, as former coach Paul Maurice and the John Ferguson did last season. Ron Wilson, a coach Blake played for and enjoyed in the World Cup of Hockey is behind the Leafs’ bench.
Most importantly, Jason Blake, four times a 20 goal scorer, comes to camp knowing what’s what. Peace of mind usually parlays into better play.
“Coming here last year, I didn’t know what to expect. I guarantee, this year, I’m there,” he said.
“Camp starts in a couple of weeks and that’s all that matters.”