Gallagher: Kings’ Rob Blake taking his time to call on Canucks
L.A. assistant is heading up Team Canada for the Worlds, and will be extending an invite to some Canucks
Rob Blake has been waiting for the Canucks to be officially eliminated from playoffs before popping the question to Vancouver players to see if they wish to represent Canada at the World Hockey championships.
And despite the dismal season the Canucks have endured, four players will be hearing their phones ring when the right time comes.
Obviously, Dan Hamhuis knows he’s going to get a call, but given he went to the Olympics already this year and didn’t get to play a lot, players in that situation are pretty much allowed to say ‘nay’ without having to invent any reasons.
And speaking of inventing reasons, Roberto Luongo has already told Blake he won’t be going, evidently using his recent two-game injury as the reason, although he also qualifies for the Olympic indulgence given he was there and supportive throughout without playing.
The other Canucks getting the call will be Alex Burrows, Kevin Bieksa and Jason Garrison, all of whom put together pretty reasonable performances Saturday night in front of Blake, who is now an assistant to GM Dean Lombardi with the Kings.
But there may be an issue with Garrison, who would like to go but has been playing with sore groins most of the season, ever since he tried to play through a sprained ankle back in November.
“You try to compensate when you play through something like that, and it builds, that’s for sure,” said Garrison, in a discussion where the name of physiotherapist Rick Celebrini was mentioned in terms of seeking a fix.
“It’s been sore. There’s no question I’ll be spending some time with him.”
“Burrows hasn’t had a very good year but he’s playing much, much better now, and sometimes those guys who have had tough years will say ‘yes’ hoping to have something to build on next year,” said Blake, who will have his work cut out for him trying to defend the Canadian honour in Belarus after the country already walked away with it’s second consecutive Olympic gold medal.
Burrows would also be a nice addition in that he’s francophone, and thus takes the heat off somewhat with respect to the constant bleating from that province about French players being ignored.
“We’re going to have a very young team, that’s for sure,” said Blake, who could be struggling to find a goalie if Mike Smith makes the playoffs or plays his Olympic exemption. Because after that the pickings aren’t that good, although Cam Ward is a possibility even though he hasn’t really been the starter in Carolina this year, and may be a little steamed given he was left off the Olympic team.
The tournament is likely to be particularly challenging for Blake and the Canadians in that it’s a huge three-week commitment which is never terribly popular with players coming off an already longer-than-normal season, and Belarus isn’t exactly in the most romantic of destinations.
Further, the Russians will be again essentially be at home, and this time they’ll have a steamed-up Alex Ovechkin looking to redeem the honour of Mother Russia after the Olympic disappointment in Sochi.
“I’m a little worried about the young Oiler sguys, too, because some of them have been over there five years already and we might be pushing it,” he said. “But all you can do is ask. A lot of times, you just phone and plant the seed with guys and then let it sit for two or three days, and then you’ll sometimes get a call back with a ‘yes.’ I know one year that’s what I did. We were out and I got the call and thought about it for a couple of days and thought ‘what else am I going to be doing?”
Blake has a little bit of what Wayne Gretzky and Steve Yzerman have going for them in terms of a personal charisma, combined with an enormous respect factor among the players who recognized how long and hard he played both in the NHL, the Olympics and in world championships for Canada.
So he’s the perfect guy for the job, even though this is a particularly difficult year for your baptism. And if he does well, there is nothing to suggest Hockey Canada wouldn’t give him consideration to head up the program for the 2018 team if there is to be one going to South Korea when the time comes.
© Copyright (c) The Province