THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTS

Thursday, 12.28.2006 / 9:19 AM / Features
By Thomas LaRocca  - LAKings.com Staff Writer
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THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTS
There have been over 150 defensemen suit up for the Los Angeles Kings and only one of that throng has done it more than 700 times, as current Kings captain Mattias Norstrom has appeared in 756 games with the 40-year-old franchise.

A second will join that club, if you could call two people a club, tonight when Rob Blake skates in his 700th game with the Los Angeles Kings as they travel to Edmonton to face the defending Western Conference Champions on Wednesday night.

"It was a little overwhelming when I first entered the league, playing with those superstars Gretzky, Kurri and Robitaille," the 18-year NHL vet Blake said. "Those guys taught me how to be a pro, not just in hockey, but in life and with my family.

"You look back on that and you realize that now it is my turn to teach the young guys."

Ironically, as Blake suits up for No. 700 with the Kings, Norstrom will appear in his 800th game in the NHL.

"If you are around long enough, things like these numbers are bound to happen," Norstrom said. "Man, look at some of these young guys' birthdays. Wow, they are young. It is part of my responsibility as a veteran to help them."

Obviously, it has come full circle for both of these stalwarts on the Kings blueline, but both took very different paths to get to this point.

Blake was the first of the duo to join the Kings organization, drafted in the fourth round of the 1988 NHL Entry draft, with the 70th pick overall. Just further proof how unpredictable the draft can be as, there were 69 players drafted before the 6-5, 225-pound defensemen, names such as Kevin Cheveldayoff and Serge Anglehart.

Out of Bowling Green State in Ohio, where he followed his childhood friend and teammate Nelson Emerson, Blake made his debut with the Kings during the 1989-90 season helping L.A. to the playoffs in each of his first four years in the NHL, including the 1993 run to the Stanley Cup Finals. He would play with the Kings until the 2000-01 season, when he was dealt to the Avalanche, winning the Stanley Cup in 2001.

"Winning the Stanley Cup has to be the highlight of my career, that is your goal from day one," Blake said. "But my highlight with the Kings would have to be playing with Gretzky, Robitaille and Kurri when I first got into the league."

Those superstars took Blake under their broad wings and taught him how to be an NHL player. With the youth of this current Kings team, Blake sees this as an opportunity to return the favor.

"You look at a guy like (Anze) Kopitar, who is going to be here for a long time and be a big part of the future of this franchise, you have to teach him how to be a professional and how to promote this league."

Kopitar's position is similar to that of Norstrom when he was first dealt to the Kings. As the New York Rangers' second round choice (48th overall) in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, Norstrom had appeared in only 43 NHL games with New York before being a "throw-in" in the trading deadline blockbuster deal that made Jari Kurri, Marty McSorley and Shane Churla Rangers.

"I didn't have a lot of NHL experience when I was dealt to LA and that changed everything getting down here," Norstrom said. "We were coached by Larry Robinson, a Hall of Fame defenseman, and that really helped a lot with my game.

"It was a great opportunity for me and it was really good to hear that I was in their plans for the future."

It was an opportunity that Norstrom took full advantage of, becoming the first King defenseman to skate in 700 games as the 6-2, 210-pound blueliner currently ranks fourth overall on the franchise's all-time games list, with 756.

As a result of his longevity, hard work and dedication, Norstrom was named the 12th captain in Kings history, and the first European born captain in NHL history, after Blake was traded to the Avs.

Tonight their histories become intertwined yet again as both reach personal milestones.