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Fans Treat Blake Like King Snake

ON THE NHL

February 05, 2002|Lonnie White

Maybe Rob Blake really did believe that King fans would forget.

It has almost been a year since Blake was traded from Los Angeles to Colorado and the former King captain seemed a little shocked to be booed when he returned to Staples Center for two recent visits.

But there's a big difference between fans dogging a player when he's playing against his ex-teammates and getting jeered every time he touched the puck in an All-Star game, which happened to Blake on Saturday.

"I understand because they supported the Kings and I for 12 years," said Blake, who originally was a little bothered by the rough treatment he received when Colorado played at Staples Center on Jan. 26. "They never cheered for anyone on a different team and I don't expect them to do that for me."

In a way, the whole situation doesn't make much sense.

Blake shouldn't be upset by the way he has been treated by King fans because he ended up playing on a Stanley Cup championship team and then signed a five-year, $48-million contract last summer.

And Staples Center fans shouldn't be so passionate with their disgust because the Kings are playing good hockey and have become a legitimate force in the league. Sure Blake is gone, but he gave the franchise everything he had until he made a business decision.

Blake said the most difficult time he's had since being traded to the Avalanche was last season's playoffs.

"That cut everything up and made me realize that I was on a different team now," Blake said. "It was the best thing but at the time, I thought it was the worst thing. To come back here and play your old team in a playoff atmosphere was really tough."

Blake, now firmly established as one of the best defensemen in the world and a key component on the Canadian Olympic team, seemed to take the All-Star weekend in stride. He was impressed with the support fans gave the various events and was glad former King owner Bruce McNall was able to attend.

"Without Bruce, Wayne [Gretzky] probably wouldn't have been here," Blake said. "In 1993 when we got to the Stanley Cup finals, it was the most exciting time in hockey history here. They together brought excitement here and because of them, we have teams in Anaheim, Phoenix and San Jose ... And all that happened because of the success they had here."

McNall, who owned the Kings and acquired Gretzky in 1988, had been in federal prison for nearly five years after pleading guilty to two counts of bank fraud, one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy.

The New School

If you haven't noticed, the usual names are missing from the league's list of top scorers. There's no Mario Lemieux or Jaromir Jagr. Not even Pavel Bure or Teemu Selanne.

Instead, there's Jarome Iginla, Markus Naslund and Joe Thornton, the top three scorers before Monday's games.

"Sometimes I do look at the stats, just not as often as I used to, but when I do, you can see that the game has changed," said Jagr, who was tied for 30th in scoring with 45 points at the All-Star break. "There are a lot of young guys in the league who have been here for one or two years and they are starting to play like superstars. But you never know. There are still 28-30 games left. But in my opinion, if Mario played a whole season, he'd win it."

Because the leading point producers are not scoring at a sizzling pace, there's still a chance for a player such as Lemieux or Jagr to make a late run. Which would not be a surprise to Iginla.

"No one is going to replace those guys for sure but it is fun to be one of the young guys," Iginla said. "There are a lot of good young players in the NHL, who are getting better and gaining more experience. But you have to respect those guys who have done it for years."

If Lemieux is to rally, he'd better get going soon because he has only 27 points in 19 games.

Tough, but Nice Too

Edmonton's Georges Laraque took time over the All-Star break to telephone Nashville's roughneck veteran Stu Grimson to wish him well. Grimson, 36, one of the NHL's most respected and longest-serving tough guys, hasn't played since a fight with Laraque on Dec. 8. Grimson, a former Duck and King, sustained a concussion and his career is in doubt.

"I respect him," Laraque told the Edmonton Sun. "We talked about our jobs. I told him I felt bad about what happened. He said, 'Don't feel bad, it's the job.' I told him I wished it didn't happen.

"For years, he's been an example of perseverance and determination. It was good to talk to him. He's a nice guy."

Odd Bedfellows

What makes the NHL so different in an Olympic year is that many teammates will be harsh competitors in less than two weeks.

And some heated rivalries, such as Detroit and Colorado, have changed a little bit. Colorado's Adam Foote and Joe Sakic will be teammates of Detroit's Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman while playing for Canada in Salt Lake City.

For a team such as the Red Wings, who will have 10 players competing in the Olympics, this has created some interesting conversations around the locker room.

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