With a pre-game tribute, some familiar faces and much fanfare, the Los Angeles Kings honoured one of their former greats (and current assistant GM) Rob Blake in a touching ceremony at the Staples Center in L.A. on Saturday.
"I kind of look at this as the last shift No. 4 will ever take," Blake told the crowd at the Staples Center.
About 40 former Kings players were on hand for the ceremony, including Luc Robitaille, Kelly Hrudey, Dan Bylsma, Rogie Vachon, Warren Rychel, Mike Donnelly and Blake's old defence partner, Mattias Norstrom. They all sat on chairs wearing Kings jerseys surrounding a stage with Blake's No. 4 on it.
Blake's wife, Brandy, was also in attendance with children Jack, 13, Brooke, 12, and Max, 2.
Robitaille praised Blake for his punishing presence on the ice and his philanthropic contributions off of it.
Blake had two stints as captain of the Kings, first as the follow-up to Wayne Gretzky in 1996, then again in the twilight of his career from 2006-08. The former fourth-round pick of the Kings (70th overall) in 1988 started and finished his career in California, a long way from where he was born in Simcoe, Ont.
He registered 240 goals and 777 points in his 1,270-game career with the Kings, Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks. He won a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2001 and made it to the final round with the Wayne Gretzky-led Kings in 1993. He was also named to the NHL All-Rookie Team in 1990 and captured the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman during his 1997-98 campaign with the Kings.
Blake is the all-time leader among Kings defencemen in goals (161), assists (333), points (494) and games played (805).
But Rob Blake’s resume goes well beyond his time with the Kings, and some of his greatest achievements came wearing a couple different sweaters. He won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001, and patrolled the blueline for Canada’s first Olympic gold medal win in 50 years at the Winter Games in Salt Lake in 2002.
Blake indirectly acknowledged his messy exit from L.A. in 2001, when he requested a trade to Colorado before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career,” Blake told the crowd. “But the one thing I’ve always wanted to do, from Day One… I wanted to be up there one day,” he said, gesturing to the rafters of the arena.
He also thanked the visiting Anaheim Ducks for sitting through the ceremony, which prompted a chorus of boos from the crowd.
"I just wanted someone else to get booed," Blake quipped.
At the end of the ceremony, Blake’s No. 4 took its place in the rafters at Staples Centre. Blake is the sixth player in Kings history to have his number retired, behind Luc Robitaille (20), Wayne Gretzky (99), Dave Taylor (18), Marcel Dionne (16) and Rogie Vachon. He’s also the first defencemen to have his number retired in L.A.
The heavy-hitting defender no longer patrols the blueline in Los Angeles, but he still offers current defencemen some guidance when they want it. His primary duties, though, are as the Kings' assistant GM. Blake handles player contracts now, and oversees the Kings' AHL affiliate in Manchester.
Blake is the last player from his Hall of Fame class to have his number retired, after Dominik Hasek’s No. 39 was raised to the rafters at First Niagara Center in Buffalo earlier this week.