It is difficult to hold a low-key retirement ceremony when you are a first ballot Hall of Fame candidate and one of the best defenseman to ever lace up a hockey skate, but San Jose Sharks captain Rob Blake stoically announced his retirement in front of a small group of family and friends Friday at HP Pavilion.
“I was fortunate to play 20 years in the National Hockey League, but today I have to announce my retirement,” Rob Blake said. “It is not a bad thing, I was very fortunate to spend a lot of time with some very great players. For that, I am very thankful.”
After 20 years in the NHL, longer than the San Jose Sharks have existed as a franchise, the Ontario-born Blake finishes his career with 1270 games played (20th alltime by a defenseman), 240 goals (10th alltime by a defenseman), 537 assists, 777 points (19th among active players), 136 power play goals (behind only defenseman Ray Bourque 173, Al MacInnis 166), 1679 penalty minutes (25 fighting majors according to hockeyfights.com), 1 Stanley Cup Championship (Colorado, 2001), 1 Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman (Los Angeles, 1998), 7 Allstar Game appearances (2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1994), 3 appearances in the Olympics and 1 Gold Medal for Team Canada, and 5 appearances in the World Championships and 2 Gold Medals for Team Canada.
“I came into the league in 1993, I was thinking as I came in today how many times Rob Blake rained on our parade here in San Jose,” Sharks President Greg Jamison said at Friday’s ceremony. “I believe it was numerous times throughout the years.” Jamison also expressed the organization’s gratitude for the on-ice and off-ice contributions Rob Blake made during his final two seasons in San Jose. “On behalf of ownership and the organization, we want to thank Rob Blake for bringing to our team a class and professionalism that is universally recognized throughout the NHL and the hockey world.”
It was a shock to the system of many a Sharks fan when it was announced that Rob Blake would be migrating from socal to Northern California in the summer of 2008. Blake was a Los Angeles Kings icon, and a member of Colorado Avalanche teams that ousted and were outsed by the Sharks in the playoffs. Blake went on a tear against San Jose in the WCSF in 2002, 2 goals in game 2, 2 goals in game 3, a goal and an assist in game 4. It is a well worn hockey cliche but Blake was a player hated on the other team, yet one you would love to have on yours.
“Rob Blake and I go way back. It took about 5 years to convince him to come here, and it was well worth it,” Sharks GM/EVP Doug Wilson said. “The day he came to this organization, we are going to reap the benefits. The young teammates that played with him… they are going to carry forward the things they learned from you.” Doug Wilson finished with a statement that reflects why Blake was named captain this season. “What is great about the game of hockey, and great about a man like this, in hockey nobody thinks they are bigger than the team, and bigger than the game. It has been a privilege and an honor to have Rob Blake come and play for this team.”
More than the sum of his career ledger, Rob Blake also retires as one of the most complete defenseman ever to play in the NHL. A booming slapshot reminiscent of Al MacInnis or Al Iafrate, offensive instincts that could pick apart a defense a la Ray Bourque or Nicklas Lidstrom, or a feared presence in front of his own goal similar to Scott Stevens. Rob Blake was a 6-foot-4, 220-pound S.O.B. in front of his own net. With his retirement, the National Hockey League loses another old school link to the style and competitiveness of a bygone era.
Paired with a 21-year old Marc-Edouard Vlasic his first year in San Jose, Blake joined a potent blueline that notched its place in the record book. Dan Boyle, Rob Blake, Christian Ehrhoff and Marc-Edouard Vlasic became the fourth team in NHL history to have four defenseman reach 30 or more assists in one season. The chemistry between Blake and his defensive partner Vlasic developed quickly. In one radio interview, Vlasic talked about watching one of his favorite defenseman play growing up, Rob Blake. He mentioned he was a little awestruck to be playing alongside him.
In Blake’s second season in San Jose, he became the 10th captain in franchise history at the start of the year. After injury problems earlier in the season, he came into his own during the stretch run and the playoffs. Controversy followed his play against Colorado, and crease clearing efforts against Detroit and Chicago allowed the Sharks to finish with their best postseason performance in franchise history. Blake said he regretted not being able to bring the Stanley Cup to the Sharks. “We weren’t able to accomplish that in San Jose, and that’s your ultimate goal.”
Friday’s retirement ceremony was aired live on Comcast Sportsnet California and the NHL Network, as well as streamed live on CSNCalifornia.com, SJsharks.com and NHL.com. Rob Blake’s wife Brandy, San Jose teammates Devin Setoguchi, Evgeni Nabokov, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton were in attendance. Sharks development coach Mike Ricci, Bowling Green teammate and Kings assistant coach Nelson Emmerson, former Shark, Masterton trophy winner and Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato, and former Kings teammate Glen Murray were also there to support Blake. Joining Greg Jamison and Doug Wilson to represent the Sharks front office, Sharks Majority owner Kevin Compton and his wife were in the audience to celebrate his career.
“I think when you joined the Sharks organization you set some standards on and off the ice that are second to none, we are going to have to live up to them,” San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said via telephone. The President and CEO of Hockey Canada, Bob Nicholson, thanked Blake for the number of times he represented his nation in international competition. Former Avalanche captain Joe Sakic also called in to thank Blake for his time playing with Colorado.
Video of the full press conference is available via CSNCalifornia.com here. The San Jose Sharks published video highlights of Blake’s career, a photo gallery and a report from the retirement ceremony. NHL staff writer Rocky Bonanno and LAKings.com’s Thomas LaRocca compiled an interactive timeline of Rob Blake’s career. A small Sharkspage photo gallery from the retirement ceremony is available here.
[Related] Rob Blake confirms retirement after 20 NHL seasons – Sharkspage.
[Update] Rob Blake: ‘It was a dream and I can sit up here and say I was lucky enough to live it’ – David Pollak’s Working the Corners blog.
[Update2] Former King Rob Blake announces retirement from NHL – LA Times.
[Update3] Video: Upon his retirement, a tribute to Rob Blake’s nasty streak – Yahoo Puck Daddy Greg Wyshynski.