With the Islanders out of playoff contention in the 2000-01 season, the team acquired a pair of sparkplugs in separate deals. "If we're gonna stink," a hockey staffer told me on the day of the trades, "let's do it with guys who are gonna play their hearts out every night." One of the new players was Steve Martins, a five-foot-9-yeah-right, fiery fourth-liner who made it into 269 NHL games on sheer will. At age 35, Steve's a point-a-game player today with Chicago of the American Hockey League.
The other guy acquired that day was a fifth-liner from the Los Angeles Kings named Jason Blake.
Let me put it this way: I have never, ever seen a professional hockey player get more out of what God gave him than Jason Blake. If it's possible that someone tried harder in an Islanders uniform than John Tonelli, it was Blakey.
The Islanders picked up Jason for a mid-round draft pick. At the time he was 27 and had played games over his past few seasons not just in LA, but in Orlando, Lowell and Long Beach, California. Soon after he arrived on the Island his wife, Sarah, was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with their first child. Thankfully, everything turned out beautifully and Jason and Sarah now have three children.
Who knows if that experience brought something out of Jason? Who knows if he was also determined to give everything he had to the Islanders because Charles Wang gave him the time and support to take care of his family first?
All we do know is Jason Blake climbed a line on the depth chart with each season, literally. I remember Peter Laviolette saying to the press, "It gets to a point where the guy keeps on out-working everyone, keeps on producing, and maybe you have to think that he IS a top-six forward."
At age 33, Jason Blake emerged as a 40-goal scorer and NHL All-Star.
Early in the game on Wednesday night, fans can expect a classy scoreboard presentation welcoming Jason back to Long Island.
Jason can expect a rousing, well-deserved standing ovation. He might wear a different uniform now but to all of us he's Jason Blake...and he's an Islander.