Time and distance have made Milwaukee rookie defenseman Jonathon Blum
He goes home to his native Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., in the summer and gazes out onto a nearby beach, one where his family and friends used to spend hours a day. Blum badly wants to jump into the Pacific Ocean and surf the waves like he did when he was a young boy. But the passage of years, he knows through joy and sorrow, changes things.
Surfing at this point in his life is not a good idea. So he'll watch the tide roll in, bring with it what it may.
"I was good," Blum said of his surfing days. "But I haven't done it in six or seven years. Now, I'm a little fearful of big waves. I wasn't as smart back then as I am now. There's a lot on the line now."
At the head of that line is Blum's status as one of the most watched prospects in the pro game right now, one who needed a dump truck to haul away all the awards he won with Vancouver of the WHL. Blum has broken into the AHL the only way he knows how -- head first.
He parachuted right from juniors into the last five games of a seven-game playoff series between Milwaukee and Houston last season. This year, befitting his status as Nashville's first-round pick in 2007, he's putting a headlock on the role of one of the Admirals' key offensive defensemen.
"It doesn't matter who is watching. It's been the same game for several years now," Blum, 20, said of the expectations. "There's always going to be bumps in the road. But that's the biggest difference between juniors and pro hockey."
Earlier this week, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Blum wedged himself on the team bus for a four-hour ride to Peoria. The inevitable movie blared in the background, this time the unforgettable "I Love You, Man."
"X-Men" and "Year One" were next up, and Blum knew this because he was responsible for getting the entertainment. He was a little concerned about the chore at first, so he did what all good hockey players do. He prepared a scouting report.
"I asked what some of the guys are looking for. I said, 'I'll get those movies,'" Blum said. "Everyone is pretty good about it. There's not that much pressure."
Blum pieces things together in an orderly fashion like that, the better to deal with whatever comes along. For instance, he doesn't go out of his way to discuss the defining tragedies of his life, but also doesn't mind doing so because he wants to show others how important it is to hang onto hope.
When Blum was 14, his twin sister, Ashley, died in a house fire. She was his biggest fan, he said, and he strives for success to honor her memory.
"I'm trying to work hard and do my best. I know she's watching," he said.
About a year later, his mother, Dana, was diagnosed with cancer. It was just a few months before Jonathan was supposed to leave home and begin his junior career in Vancouver. He didn't want to be away from her. Go, she said, and see what you can make of yourself. So he went.
"It was kind of a blessing for me to be away from that scene," he said. "Your mom's not doing good. My parents hid me away from that. I'd call home, say, 'How is mom doing?' They'd say she's doing well. But she was too sick to talk."
Dana recovered to beat the cancer, and her son gave her an eyeful with the Giants. He is the team's all-time scoring leader among defensemen with 204 points, and was named the Canadian Hockey League's top defenseman in 2009. During his tenure, the team claimed four division titles, two conference titles, a WHL championship and a Memorial Cup championship.
"Now, it's a different chapter in the book. All that was a feather in the cap, but now it's time to start clean," he said. "I had a good four years there, did a lot of things in that league. I know there're a lot more good things for me to do.
Blum's calm and playoff savvy made him a natural addition to the Admirals last postseason, even as the team's year hung in the balance.
"I thought I did OK. You didn't want to be the new guy to come in, cost your team," he said.
"He's played very deep into the playoffs his entire career. He doesn't get rattled," said Milwaukee coach Lane Lambert
. "He looked fine right from the get-go. He's a top-end defenseman. He has escapability. He can out-think the forecheck and get the puck to the right places."
Blum will get to the right place professionally, too, though he stands out yet again by viewing his ascension to the NHL as more of a measured pursuit than an all-out sprint. Then again, what other outlook would you expect from one of those California surfer dudes?
"There's no hurry. I'm only 20 years old," he said. "There's a lot of time left. You want to do it as quick as possible. But you want to have a good, solid career. I'll wait for the moment I'm ready, and I can make an impact."