He recently visited New York City for the first time in his life. He was impressed to say the least. His hometown of Canmore, British Columbia is home to roughly 10,000 residents ... enough people to fill slightly more than half of Madison Square Garden for a hockey game. But like many 'small-town boy turned big-city superstar' stories, Rangers 2001 first round draft choice Dan Blackburn hopes to write his own chapter of success in the Big Apple.
Blackburn, 18, approaches life in the same manner in which he plays ... with tremendous concentration, poise and confidence. His resolve was tested in his first trip to New York a few weeks ago when he became the main focal point of media attention during an appearance at NHL BREAKOUT. But in the same way that he successfully handles a slap shot from the top of the circle, he handled each encounter ... with confidence and enthusiasm.
"I like dealing with the media," he said. There's only one newspaper and one reporter in Kootenay, so it’s going to take a little bit of getting used to here, but I’m looking forward to it."
For Blackburn, being drafted by the Rangers with the 10th overall pick in June's NHL Entry Draft was just another step forward in his hockey pilgrimage. In 1999-00, the 6-0, 180-pound netminder was named CHL and WHL Rookie of the Year, was named to the CHL All-Rookie Team, was selected as a Second Team WHL Eastern Conference All Star and was named WHL Playoff MVP, becoming the youngest recipient in the history of the award at age 17. This past season, he was voted the CHL Goaltender of the Year after posting an impressive 33-14-2 record in 50 contests.
So what does Blackburn have left to prove at the junior level after two very successful seasons in the WHL? Is he ready to make the jump to the NHL next season? Those questions will ultimately be decided in September at Training Camp. But one thing can be said ... Blackburn does not back down under pressure, regardless of the situation. Just like his hockey idol, Patrick Roy, he too would love to make an immediate impact in his rookie campaign.
While many see Blackburn returning to Kootenay next season to fine-tune his skills, Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather is looking forward to getting a close look at the netminder this fall before he makes any roster decisions.
"There is a possibility he can come into training camp and win a role on this team," said Sather. "He is very confident and very mature for his age. Grant Fuhr did it when he was 18. Dan has good size, is a strongly built guy and has impressed everyone with his play. Only time will tell what will happen in camp. It really depends on his development and how he handles things."
Blackburn has spent the last few weeks working out in Cranbrook, British Columbia with NHL'ers Scott and Rob Niedermayer. Not bad training partners if he's looking to gauge his readiness for the next level. Currently, he is attending the 2002 Team Canada National Junior Evaluation Camp in Calgary, Alberta from August 1-10, along with 43 other players who look to represent their country at the 2002 World Junior Championships. Joining Blackburn at this initial evaluation session is Rangers'third round selection Garth Murray.
"I'm going to go into camp with the mind-set of trying to make the team," said Blackburn, who still has two years of junior hockey eligibility remaining. "I wouldn't be disappointed if I was sent back. I'd go back and shoot for making the World Junior Championship team. But I've always been a couple of years ahead of my age group. I've been playing Junior A hockey since I was 14. I like new challenges."
Whether it’s this season or next, one thing is for certain. Dan Blackburn holds the key to the Rangers future in goal. And if his focus remains as sharp and intense as it always is, his chapter of success in the Big Apple will be one worth reading.