Rob Blake remembers what it was like to get the call from Hockey Canada to play in the world championship the day after his season with the Los Angeles Kings ended.
Blake donned the red-and-white Maple Leaf five times at the tournament over his career, winning gold twice. This spring he’ll be making those calls as Canada’s general manager for the world championship that takes place in May in Minsk, Belarus.
Because it’s an Olympic year, Blake and his staff — Ron Hextall of the Philadelphia Flyers, Brad Treliving of the Phoenix Coyotes and Brad Pascall of Hockey Canada — might have some different challenges convincing players to commit. But the 44-year-old Kings assistant GM knows what to sell.
“I can’t stress how important the opportunity to win is,” Blake said. “I convey to them what the world championships is all about. … You look at your career and it goes by pretty fast. There’s not a lot of opportunities you have to win something.”
Blake represented Canada at the world championship in 1998, months after playing in the Nagano Olympics.
“Being in that position and having won a couple of those tournaments, you can relate those stories to (potential players),” Blake said.
Canada, like many other teams at the world championship, is expected to have a young roster in Minsk because it’s an Olympic year. Not only does that likely rule out the players who won gold in Sochi (Corey Perry was the only 2010 Olympian to play at the worlds), but Treliving said there are other complications.
“It’s a little bit unique in the sense not only from an Olympic year and the guys that went over and played, but even from the NHL schedule and the compactness of the NHL schedule, for everybody, including those who didn’t go over and play,” he said.
Four years ago, Canada’s group at the world championships included 18-year-old Evander Kane, 19-year-olds Matt Duchene and John Tavares and 20-year-old Steven Stamkos. Expect similar youth this time around.
“I think it’s going to be very similar to the teams in the past,” Blake said. “The young guys are the ones that make an easy commitment. They don’t have the family commitment, the kids commitment and different things that as you get older you might have involved in this type of decision. I think, typically, younger guys are the ones and then you surround them with the right veterans and you can have some success.”
One thing Blake, Hextall and Treliving have in common is they’re all general managers of their organization’s AHL affiliate, giving them some experience with younger players.
Blake is in his first season as Kings assistant GM, replacing Hextall, who took the same job in Philadelphia. Treliving is in his seventh season as the Coyotes’ assistant GM.
“Blakey’s been around the game a long time,” Hextall said. “He’s a very patient guy, he’s methodical and he’s very sharp. I know he had a hand in a world championship team in the past, so I’m sure that little bit of experience helps him.”
Along with Pascall, Hockey Canada’s vice president of hockey operations and national teams, those men will have conference calls over the next few weeks to discuss putting together a coaching staff and then a projected roster.
“I think you’ve got to look at teams that are not likely to make the playoffs and see what’s available and at least get your mind going and start thinking about line combinations and checkers and energy guys and scorers,” Hextall said.