PHILADELPHIA -- Dan Blackburn's NHL career ended far too soon, but he was back in New York Rangers blue Saturday and he authored a dazzling performance.
Blackburn, who was forced to retire from the NHL in 2005 because of nerve damage in his shoulder, turned aside 15 of 16 shots while playing two periods of the Molson Canadian 2012 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game at a sold-out Citizens Bank Park.
"It was a blast. It felt like it was a real game," Blackburn said. "I couldn't sleep for about two nights before that. I was glad it went well and it was a lot of fun once we got out there."
2012 WINTER CLASSIC
Rangers finally ready for Winter Classic
By Alain Poupart - NHL.com Correspondent There are no more preliminaries for the Rangers. The 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Monday afternoon is next on the schedule. READ MORE ›
After bursting onto the NHL scene as an 18-year-old in 2001, Blackburn was pressed into No. 1 goaltender duties for the Rangers because of a concussion to starter Mike Richter. Blackburn played in 31 games that season -- the fifth-most in NHL history by a goalie in the season after he was drafted.
Then his shoulder didn't feel right one day after lifting weights, and it never felt right again. After being diagnosed with nerve damage in the shoulder, which limited his range of motion. he had a surgery that did not correct the problem. He even tried to make a comeback, playing with two blockers instead of the traditional blocker and catching glove set up.
He played 12 games in the ECHL during the 2004-05 season and attended training camp with the Rangers in 2005 before retiring during that camp.
"Unfortunately, his career was cut short, but it was wonderful for him to be able to come back and get an opportunity to do what we all did out there and have a great time," fellow Rangers goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck said. "I feel for him that an unusual circumstance happened to him. I'm sure it was difficult. I got to play for a long time and I was very fortunate to experience longevity. For him, he didn't get that chance."
Blackburn lives in Dallas, across the street from American Airlines Centre. He works in real estate now, but after his career was finished he spent a few years working for Goaltender Development Institute, which has a list of alumni that includes Marc-Andre Fleury, Cam Ward and Roberto Luongo.
"It is always fun when you get to work with kids, especially kids who are elite-level athletes who aspire to play high-level hockey," Blackburn said. "It is so great to coach those guys and watch their games elevate and change and mature. It was a lot of fun."
After relieving Vanbiesbrouck to start the second period, Blackburn was pressed into action quickly against the Flyers alumni. He ended up making stops on multiple breakaways, including one on Jeremy Roenick in the third period, and a penalty shot attempt by Shjon Podein.
"Some of the guys on the Flyers just retired. I mean, the Big E (eric Lindros) looked like he did 10 years ago when I played with him -- same with JR and (Mark) Recchi and some of those guys," Blackburn said. "They were moving the puck around pretty well. I enjoyed it. ... I think [Roenick] shot it into me on purpose, to make me feel better about myself."
Blackburn will be here Monday with his wife to watch the Bridgestone 2012 NHL Winter Classic, and then he'll be back in Dallas. He still plays in a men's league, but Blackburn skates as a forward now.
He put the goalie pads back on for one day at least, and was probably the best player for the Rangers.
"It is a big honor. There's a lot of far bigger names in this dressing room than I," Blackburn said. "For me to get the call and be able to come play with these great guys and a lot of legends was a great honor and a lot of fun. Probably one of the highlights of my career, actually."