Friday, February 11, 2005

10 minutes with Dan Blackburn

I spoke with former Rangers goaltender Dan Blackburn and his agent, Mark Hall, earlier this week to find out how Blackburn’s comeback attempt with the ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings is going. For those that haven’t heard, here is a brief outline of Dan’s predicament. What follows below is an excerpted portion of the interview (the full story can be found in the Feb. 10 issue of the National Post):

So things have been pretty crazy in Victoria I hear. What’s that been like for you?

"I think it's more of like, this sounds kind of strange, but it's almost like circus-freak appeal, you know, come see the goalie with two blockers. You know I feel a little like on display like that. But I think there's just been a lot of interest to see what the talk is about."

How did you feel on the ice on Friday in your first game back (Victoria lost the game 3-2 to the Fresno Falcons)?

“I thought I played pretty well. Like I said after a long time off I thought it was good... I'm my biggest critic so it doesn’t really matter, more than no goals is too many goals.”

Does your injury bother you or limit the way you make certain save?

"Not necessarily. Honestly, I don't think about it. It's been a while, and I've sort of moved past that. It's not in my mind at all."

Is it a lot different though, having two blockers and not being able to freeze the puck?

"Well I can freeze the puck… I’ve got a glove on the underside of the blocker so I can stop plays."

Well, this might sound like a stupid question, but without a catching glove, you must give up more rebounds from the second blocker?

"Well… Now it's just the same on both sides, you know, trying to direct puck to the corner with the other blocker."

Is playing with Victoria the first step to you coming back to the NHL?

"I wouldn't call this the first step because the first step was a long time ago, you know, over a year ago. The first step was just the first one. My ultimate goal will be getting back to the NHL."

And how has that progression been so far?

"I've been able to attain all of the goals the doctors have set out for me, so I mean I'm pleased with the way things have gone so far. This is sort of just a tryout period for me to see how things are going to go [playing with the injury]."

Are there insurance issues to think about?

"I've got some insurance issues. I've got a timeframe where I can make a decision to do this or not."

And what is that timeframe? When do you have to decide by?

"I don’t really want to say exactly, but when it comes I’ll let you know."

You called this a tryout period, but should the lockout continue, you’re going to play with Victoria for the rest of the year?

"Well, yea, I've signed a full contract, and I'm available whenever [Salmon Kings head coach] Brian Maxwell wants to put me in."

Has it been a frustrating process getting back to playing again (Dan went a year without getting on the ice and hadn’t played in a game in nearly two years)?

"Anytime you have that kind of injury you're not able to recover from it fully, and no amount of hardwork is going to make it better, it’s frustrating. The only thing I can do is direct my hard work into the areas where I can improve, you know my skating, my strength, my upper body- all the areas that aren't affected by the injury."

But did you ever contemplate not making a comeback [to hockey]?

"There was definitely a point there… well, after a period in time where you decide that you're going to do whatever you possibly can to put yourself in the best possible position to succeed or direct it elsewhere, you know, outside of hockey. I decided that I was going to do everything that I could to get back. And that's kinda where it's led me to here."

What would you do if not come back to hockey?

"Uhmmmm… well, that's not something I tried to dwell on at all.

"You know I'm a hockey player first off, and it's just a natural [to want to come back]. It'd be a different story, you know, if I was doing something else. By using two blockers I'm just trying to work around my disability... it's been successful so far. You know it's really just one big experiment to see how everything's going to go and how my arms going to hold up, it's been good so far."

You played on Saturday and the team won for the first time in 20 games, and the game went into a shootout… what was that like, what was the atmosphere in the rink like?

"Well, anytime you don't win for a longtime there’s a lot of frustration and a lot of building up. Just to get this win — especially for everybody else — it was a relief for me to get the first one, and it was a relief for the team to get that win. But it's pretty nerve-wracking, you know, your second game back and there's a shootout going on. It was exciting... I felt very comfortable in the shootout surprisingly."

I recall from watching you play with Kootenay (when I lived in Kamloops), and I’ve also heard others comment that your glove hand was a real strength of yours. Did you consider it a strength? And do you [have to] compensate now, not having one of your previous strengths?

"My glove hand was a strength. The way I used to play is that I used to basically just perform based on athleticism. I never really had a goalie coach growing up so I wasn't a positional goalie. It was just all athleticism and reaction. Whereas now I'm trying to make a lot of changes, and I'm trying to play a positional game so I don't have to reach for the puck like I used to."

What about the Rangers — what has their involvement been with you through this time?

"The team's been very supportive. You know everybody from the medical staff, who I've gotten to know almost too well, to I mean Glen [Sather], Don Maloney, anything that I needed that I thought would help me get better or help me prepare for coming back was available to me."

Were you still going to all the games and that?

"Last year, no, I went to all the home games, but I never went on the road trips. I know they thought of me as part of the team but you just don't feel it when you're not in the dressing room, and you're not in the game. It doesn't really matter whether your name is in the paper, you don't feel like you're part of the team regardless if everyone else tries to make you feel like it."

© JM.

Dan sounded like a real class act, and I wished him the best in his comeback bid. Others who I talked to sounded skeptical about him playing in the NHL again, but he sounds like a pretty determined kid.


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