Boy's death hits Leaf hard

MIKE ZEISBERGER, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 4:38 AM ET

DALLAS -- Lugging his heavy heart around American Airlines Center last night, Jason Blake still managed to register three assists for the Maple Leafs. But even his big stat night wasn't enough to strip away the bitterness and the questions of "Why?".

And those questions had nothing to do with the Maple Leafs' 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars.

No, this was about the loss of a friend, a 13-year-old boy who not so long ago had put a grin on Blake's face at a time when smiles were hard to come by.

In this time of swine flu fear, the illness has hit home for Blake.

When Blake first moved to Etobicoke in 2007, his first season with the Leafs, the veteran forward, his wife and three kids were befriended by the family next door.

The Frustaglio family.

The same Frustaglio family that is mourning the tragic death of a son, 13-year-old Evan, who passed away Monday from swine flu.

When Blake was diagnosed with a rare, yet treatable form of leukemia that first year as a Leaf, the Frustaglios provided plenty of moral support. The two families dined together. The kids would play road hockey in the driveway.

Now, Blake must deal with the passing of the kid who used to put a smile on his face, no matter how down he would be. Crushing.

"It's devastating," Blake said last night. "I haven't had a chance to reach out to the family yet. You kind of get blinders on when the season starts. But I plan to, that's for sure.

"The family was so good to us. They showed us around town. The father helped me pick out my first couch.

"I remember the boy well. I can't imagine losing a child."

Such is the impact the swine flu outbreak is having.

To their credit, both the league and the Leafs seem to be on top of the threat.

INFO SESSION

According to Leafs senior vice-president of hockey operations, Dave Nonis, the players had an informal information session regarding the illness prior to leaving on this five-game trip. Regular flu shots also were made available to the players at that time.

After returning from this road odyssey, which ends Saturday night in Montreal, Nonis said the players will be given another info session.

All the while, Nonis stressed there has been no preferential treatment toward the Leafs as far as the H1N1 vaccine is concerned.

"The vaccine will be available to the players at the same time as the general public and not before," Nonis said, adding that "if we have a player who has any symptoms, he immediately will be segregated from the rest of the team."

The disease already has hit three NHLers, including Ladislav Smid of the Edmonton Oilers, Peter Budaj of the Colorado Avalanche and Quintin Laing of the Washington Capitals.

"Obviously, during the season germs are flying all over the place," defenceman Mike Komisarek said. "You have to take common precautions like washing hands. At the end of the day, you put your faith in the team doctors to give you proper care and advice."

For Jason Blake, that comes as little consolation.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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