So this was anticipated yet still a surprise. Not a “Holy Mother of God, I just soiled myself!” surprise — more a, “Huh. Weird.” surprise. Rob Blake returns to the Kings.
With the Kings, Blake was a four-time all-star who helped the team to the 1993 Stanley Cup finals, and won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenceman in 1998. He was the team’s captain from 1996-2001 and one of its most popular players.
Blake was a target for fan hostility whenever he returned to play at Staples Center, but he hopes all will be forgiven.
“I hope it’s a warm reception,” he said. “I think things will be put behind us.”
We’ll see about that.
He was one if not the favorite of mine back when he was last on the Kings, but somewhat like the return of Luc Robitaille, there is still a little of the old “Where the hell have you been?” aftertaste remaining. But even so, a favorite. He’s also the same age as I am, so it’s always been kind of cool to think of a guy my age (ancient when it comes to the rookies entering professional sports nowadays) still banging around on the ice.
I never had the urge to boo him. Sure, he left under pretty bad circumstances, but considering the disfunctional team leaders at the time (which has only partially been addressed — still the same ownership), I don’t blame him for going to a contender. Didn’t blame Luc for going to the Red Wings, either.
Just like after the debacle Dodgers 2005 season, I feel pretty wary after the debacle 2005-06 Kings. Actually, I’ve felt that way about the whole NHL since the lockout ended. Not too surprising given its recent beginnings. Despite my love for the sport of hockey, I grew up in football and baseball country. Ice was something you put in your tea, not something you skated on for sport necessarily.
Maybe there was something genetic about my intial attraction to the game, since the Daeleys settled in Canada on their way from Ireland, but I didn’t really get into hockey until the late 90s when friends with an extra Ducks ticket invited me to my first game. Lucky for me, though I didn’t know it at the time, the Red Wings were in town, and even to my ignorant eyes their team looked better on the ice. The aesthetics of the whole experience grabbed me even before I grasped a bit of the game’s subtleties and dynamics. Eventually I adopted the Kings instead of the Ducks as “my” team, and haven’t looked back.
But between the Kings ownership’s seeming acceptance of mediocrity, the lockout, and then last season’s awfulness… well, I’m wary. I’m wary of caring again, because I’ve been burnt as a fan these past couple of years.
Do you remember Milton Bradley’s meltdown with the bottle incident? I was there at Dodgers Stadium that night watching it happen. I watched astounded by the melodramatic tantrum being thrown, capped off by Milton ripping his Dodgers jersey off on his way back to the dugout, seemingly in response to the fans vociferious booing. 50,000 people versus one angry man.
I liked Milton Bradley, had always wanted him to succeed after intially being — heh, yes, wary — due to his past. Unfortunately, Milton’s struggles got the best of him again, and he was gone last year.
For some reason, a juxtaposition of Bradley and Blake occured in my mind as I wrote this — one leaving because of internal strife, the other leaving mostly for money, though Blake also reportedly ripped the captain’s C from his sweater in the locker room before demanding a trade.
You can be a fan of a team, a franchise, and of individual players.
I’m a Dodgers fan, even though they were also an adopted team for me. I’m pretty well versed in their storied history, maybe even moreso than some lifelong fans (like how they say the converted are always more obsessively fervent than the believer born into the religion), and they are an organization that I can be proud of supporting. From giving Jackie Robinson a chance, to their long rivalry with the Giants that has traveled over decades and an entire continent, to their ability to inspire and support all of the international and cosmopolitan Los Angeles communities, to the warm tones of Vin Sculley calling a game… this is something I can feel a deep attachment to.
There are players as well that I’ve grown attached to, some of whom have been tossed off the roster — I still miss Paul Lo Duca and Adrian Beltre — some of whom are more recent additions — I dig Nomar like crazy, plus all the new kids are a joy to watch.
I guess that even given the McCourts’ faults, it seems like they are trying to get things going again. Granted it’s a business, and a good team on the field means good money for the company, but it seems like they give a damn about it.
The Kings bringing on Dean Lombardi and Marc Crawford, whilst moving Dave Taylor out, bodes well for their intentions. But for me, that organization is where the Dodgers were after last year. You have to prove to me that you give a damn before I will.
Same thing goes for the NHL. Same thing goes for Rob Blake.
I need proof. Until I have that, I am left with that feeling of subdued surprise. “Huh. Weird.”