TORONTO – Jason Blake was diagnosed with leukemia just before the start of the regular season and quickly lost 10 pounds after starting to receive treatment.
He still didn’t miss a game for the Toronto Maple Leafs all season.
That devotion and effort helped Blake win the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy on Thursday as the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
“It’s sad to say that you almost need something of this magnitude to make you realize how important each day is,” said Blake. “I’ve been so lucky in life to play in the NHL, have three beautiful kids and be married to a wonderful woman. …
“I get to play the game I love at the highest level and I get to continue doing it as long as some team wants me.”
He edged out Detroit Red Wings defenceman Chris Chelios and Edmonton Oilers forward Fernando for the award, which was voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Blake took a blood test during a pre-season physical and soon found out that he had chronic myelogenous leukemia, a rare but treatable form of cancer.
The 34-year-old started taking medication immediately and wondered whether he would be around to see his kids grow up.
“It’s like walking down the street and getting hit blind-sided,” said Blake. You just never see it coming.”
The native of Moorhead, Minn., was emotional at the podium while thanking his doctors, family and teammates.
Blake visited one of his doctors on Thursday morning and was told that he’s in good health now. He’ll have leukemia for the rest of his life but should be OK.
“(The doctor) assured me that I’m going to live a long, happy life,” said Blake.
He had to battle weight loss while going through the rigours of an NHL season. Physically, that was the toughest thing he had to overcome.
Blake finished the season with 15 goals and 52 points – totals that were lower than he had put up the year before with the New York Islanders.
The good news is that he’s feeling stronger and expects a better season ahead.
“I just want to make sure that I’m back where I was two years ago,” said Blake. “I think that’s the main thing right now.”
Pisani missed training camp and the first 26 games of the regular season due to ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammation of the large intestine. He also battled weight loss along with abdominal pain before making his return to the Oilers lineup on Dec. 2.
Chelios won his third Stanley Cup last week to complete his 24th season in the NHL. In January, the 46-year-old became the second-oldest player in NHL history – trailing only Gordie Howe.
The Masterton Trophy is named after former Minnesota North Stars player Bill Masterton, who died after sustaining an injury during an NHL game on Jan. 15, 1968.