Nashville's Jonathon Blum, right, and Martin Erat (10) try to stop… (Frederick Breedon / Getty…)
On in-line skates or on ice, Jonathon Blum absorbed every lesson hockey had to offer.
Whether playing with friends near home in Rancho Santa Margarita or for the California Wave youth team, Blum smoothly handled every challenge. His creativity and hockey sense were powerful rebuttals to rivals who dismissed him as a harmless surfer boy because he didn't grow up skating on a frozen backyard rink.
But nothing in hockey taught him how to face the loss of his twin sister, Ashley, in a 2004 house fire or his mother's cancer diagnosis.
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He figured out how to persevere, to pursue the dream he and Ashley had shared. It began to come true when the Nashville Predators chose him 23rd in the 2007 entry draft, the first California-born-and-trained player selected in the first round. His dream was fully realized Feb. 22, when the Predators promoted him from the minor leagues and trusted him to play major minutes with a high-caliber defense corps.
His parents, Dana — a cancer survivor — and John, were in Columbus for his debut. Ashley was there, too.
"She's always in your mind and your thoughts and you try to do well for her because she was my sister and a close friend and a close supporter of what I did," Blum said by phone from Nashville, where the Predators face the Kings on Tuesday. "She was a big part of my hockey. It would have been nice if she was there, but in our family's hearts she's right there.
"It's hard to take something good out of such a tragedy, but it's made our family closer and stronger and I think it's made me mentally a lot stronger, being 15 and going through that. It makes you more mature than other kids that age. You learn a lot about yourself."
He had to be patient playing four seasons for the junior-level Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants — where he won the Memorial Cup in 2007 — and a season and a half in the American Hockey League before his promotion.
"I definitely thought I was good enough to play at the start of the year, but you've got to learn to stick with it and not pout or get upset," said Blum, who has a goal, an assist and a plus-one defensive rating while averaging 18 minutes and seven seconds' ice time in 10 games. "You're dealt whatever you're dealt and you've got to learn to deal with it mentally and physically."
Predators General Manager David Poile said the wait gave the 6-foot-1, 180-pound defenseman valuable development time.
"It's been a process but it's been well worthwhile," Poile said, "and now he's got his foot in the door and I don't see any reason why he shouldn't stay with us."
Probably the only drawback for Blum is that he can't surf much. He used to get to the beach on weekends at 8 a.m., ride the waves for four hours, nap in a motor home and hit the waves again. He hasn't surfed in three or four years.
"A lot of it has to do with time, but now you really don't want to risk anything," he said. "That was something in my past I really loved and hopefully later on in my life I can pick up again."
Not for a while, though.
"It's a privilege and honor to be in the NHL," he said, "and hopefully I can stay for a long time."
Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger is scheduled to undergo surgery Tuesday to repair his fractured right wrist and will be out three to four weeks. Can the Flyers keep the No. 1 seeding in the East? They're a point ahead of the Washington Capitals with two games in hand.
R.I.P. Richard Martin, who died in a car crash Sunday at 59. Martin, Rene Robert and Gilbert Perreault formed the Buffalo Sabres' mesmerizing French Connection line, blending personality and production. Hampered by injuries, Martin ended his career with the Kings, playing four games over two seasons.