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Blake: 'Hard work has its rewards'

by Shawn Roarke

TORONTO -- Rob Blake couldn't thank enough the people that helped him along his journey to his Hockey Hall of Fame induction Monday.

His family took center stage in the tale.

He talked about the influence his parents had on him and the values he learned living on a farm in nearby Simcoe, Ontario.

He told a story about how on Sundays after church his family would sometimes take a ride by the crops on the farm and how he could see the pride in the eyes of his mom and dad. He did not understand it at the time, but as he got older it made much more sense to him. In fact, he says he realized that when he would sit on the bench before a game, looking over the empty ice and the silent arena, he was performing the same ritual as his father with the crops on the farm.

"I traded the fields for an ice rink," said Blake, who won the 1998 Norris Trophy as the game's best defensemen. "Thank you for teaching me that hard work has its rewards."

He also thanked his nuclear family for their part in the journey, calling up his wife and two of his three children to the dais to help him say thank you.

The main part of his speech centered on the four calls which helped define his career.

The first came in 1989 while he was still at Bowling Green University in 1989. It was from Rogie Vachon, the general manager of the Los Angeles Kings, who was offering him a contract.

"I can remember to this day walking down the ramp of the Great Western Forum and into a NHL dressing room," said Blake, who listed all of the big names in that dressing room, including Wayne Gretzky, Larry Robinson and Luc Robitaille. "I couldn't ask for a better group to start my career with."

Blake told a great story about Gretzky, who talked about Blake in the video tribute that preceded his speech. In the tribute, Gretzky said he loved that Blake always hit the net with his powerful shot.

Blake, though, told a different story.

"I remember a game early in my career when I missed three or four shots after Gretzky passed me the puck. After one, he skated up to me and you miss the net again, you aren't getting the puck. I took that with me always."

The second call came during the 2001-01 season. Blake was in Calgary, out for dinner, when he answered his phone to find Pierre Lacroix, the Colorado Avalanche general manager on the other end.

"He said, 'It's Pierre Lacroix, I want to welcome you to the Colorado Avalanche,'" Blake said. "I don't remember a lot of that conversation, I was in a bit of shock. It was a great team with great players and they were poised to win."

Win they did. Blake won the Stanley Cup that June.

The third came when Blake was 38, at the tail end of his career. He said he believed the game was passing him by when Doug Wilson called with a lifeline. Wilson wanted Blake to come to San Jose and provide veteran leadership to a young group of guys learning to win.

The final call came from Dean Lombardi, his current boss with the Kings. At the time, Blake was working with the Department of Player Safety with the NHL, but he knew he wanted to work for a team again and Lombardi provided that opportunity.

"This is the greatest honor I could ever imagine," Blake said.

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