Jonathon Blum was born in Long Beach, Calif., and grew up in nearby Rancho Santa Margarita. He was a first-round pick of the Nashville Predators in the 2007 NHL Draft. The defenseman played 91 NHL games for the Predators before recently returning to the League with the Minnesota Wild.
Playing hockey where I grew up wasn't traditional at all, for sure. I owe a lot to my parents. It's very expensive playing in Southern California, traveling four or five times a year just to help me develop, paying for lessons. The ice time was $600, $700 an hour back then.
I was probably about 5 or 6 years old when I started. We lived on a cul de sac and there were probably about 10 or 15 kids on my block. When school was done we'd get on rollerblades or sneakers and we'd play street hockey or roller hockey. If we didn't have nets we'd use little sewer holes as nets and try to shoot the balls into them. That's how I started.
When I was 6 I went to a birthday party at a public skate for my first time ice skating and I loved it. That's when I decided to switch from roller hockey to ice hockey.
I started with the California Wave when I was 7 years old because they played nearby at a rink in Westminster, and I was there for eight years, until I left to play for the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.
My first year in Mites, I was a center. The next year, they moved me back to defense and I played defense for the rest of my time with the Wave.
Part of what made it fun was the great coaches we had. Jeff Turcotte and Jack Bowkus, those were my first two coaches. I owe a lot to those two guys. They really taught me the game well, made it fun. In eight seasons with them they really developed me as a player. They taught me a lot of things.
There were only maybe a handful of teams in Southern California to play against, and we would have maybe 20, 25 people come try out for the team, so our team pretty much stayed together for a lot of years. We would have to travel to Chicago, Toronto, and Detroit to play tournaments to get competition. We'd go back East and be playing these teams and they'd never heard of the California Wave. They'd say, "Where are your surfboards?" We all had long hair at the time and kind of looked like California beach bums. But we ended up winning a lot of the tournaments we went to and really made a name for ourselves in California. The best was when we'd go to Toronto or Quebec. The Canadians love their hockey, and to get beat by some California team, they didn't like that at all.
I live in California in the offseason and it's so much different now when I go to the rinks. What I think I've noticed the most is kids are being educated a lot younger and now kids in Southern California dream to one day play in the NHL. It was never a dream of mine or a goal of mine to play in the NHL. Canadian kids, you're out there skating on the backyard rinks when you're 4 or 5 years old and dreaming of playing in the NHL. I never had those dreams or goals. I just played hockey because it was fun and I made a lot of friends doing it.
You look now and there's a lot more players coming out of California. You look at Emerson Etem and Beau Bennett who were drafted in the first round and are playing in the NHL. When we were growing up, a lot of people counted California kids out. They had the stereotype of this skilled lazy guy, soft, those characteristics. Nowadays people out of California are playing in the NHL and playing hard. It's definitely changed a lot of people's opinions about California hockey.