Rob Blake on jersey retirement: ‘From day one I wanted to be up there’

Rob Blake’s career was always about more than the numbers. 

He made the numbers look easy: In 14 seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, he became the organization’s all-time leader games played, goals, assists and points by a defenseman. The numbers may not have come as easy later on in his 21-year NHL career, but there’s one number that counts: One, as in the amount of times he won the Stanley Cup. 

It would have been tragic for a player as talented and well-respected to end his career without ever getting to experience the magic of the Stanley Cup and the sport’s pinnacle.

But Blake was so much more than just a dominant defenseman with a heavy shot and an even heavier hip check. Blake was an influential player in the locker room and in Los Angeles. Now, in his role as the Kings’ assistant general manager, he’s just as influential in the front office. 

Everything that Rob Blake was as a player and is as a front office executive was celebrated Saturday night when the Kings retired his No. 4 jersey at the Staples Center.

"From day one, when I showed up here and walked down the Great Western Forum, I put a kings jersey on, I stepped on the ice for the first time. We were playing Winnipeg and I looked up," Blake said. "From day one I wanted to be up there one day."

He saw his dream come true, as the banner was lifted into the Staples Center rafters to hang in some legendary company: Rogie Vachon, Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor, Luc Robitaille and, of course, Wayne Gretzky had already preceded him. 

Considering those already up there, it should speak volumes about the type of person that Blake was on the ice, in the dressing room and in the community.

"You were my captain," current Kings’ captain Dustin Brown said. "You showed us what it truly meant to be a teammate."

When Blake came to L.A., the Kings were only starting to build a culture. Humble to his core, Blake wasn’t an outspoken or overly brazen player who commanded the spotlight. Instead, through his selfless play and selfless acts, he earned the respect of all of his teammates and coaches.

"Some people dream of success," former teammate Mattias Nordstrom said. "Others wake up and work hard for it. And to me, that is Rob Blake.

Blake captured the hearts of fans, but they truly captured his as well. 

There was once a family with three boys who all suffered from Muscular Dystrophy. He invited them to a game, and they said it was the best night of their lives. So Blake made sure they could have nights like that for years. Each September, he arranged for the family to have season tickets. They had season tickets for over a decade, until the boys passed away. Truly lifelong fans, truly appreciated by one of the classiest players to ever lace up.

"I’ve been in this business 25 years," general manager Dean Lombardi said. "And I can assure you there are few athletes as universally respected as Rob Blake."

As a player, he was as professional as they come, lauded for his work ethic as much as his slapshot. Those who played with him from his very early days as a rookie out of Bowling Green State University knew that he was something special. And those that played with him in his later years understood what he was and what he stood for.

Kings legend Rob Blake’s hockey career to come full circle with jersey retirement

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"He could hit — boy could he hit," he said. "He could skate a lot faster than me, and he could shoot. And i knew back then that we would stand here one day from that first game with him."

"I don’t look at Rob as the most talented player I played with," Nordstrom said. "I look at him as the greatest player I played with."

Saturday night’s ceremony featured some heartfelt speeches by several former Kings and one current. There was a video narrated by Gretzky and a Spiderman toy that his two-year-old son couldn’t seem to put down. As the banner raised, Blake invited Nordstrom, who came all the way from Sweden for the event, out on to the carpet to help him raise the banner. Teammates and brothers to this day. 

Blake himself even took the time to thank the Kings’ opponents – the Anaheim Ducks – and their owners, Henry and Susan Samueli. You can’t talk about Blake’s legacy without mentioning the work he has done to grow the game on the West Coast. Which has meant teaming up with the rival, on occasion, for one common cause. 

The entire ceremony was quintessential Rob Blake: Classy until the very end.

"We feel that you are finally back where you belong," Brown said. "Where it all started, as part of the L.A. Kings family."