Welcome to Leafland, Mr. Blake

MIKE ZEISBERGER

, Last Updated: 1:49 PM ET

One of the fastest players in the NHL, Jason Blake, already is looking for a residence in Toronto, his new hockey home. As the marquee catch of the Maple Leafs in the NHL's free-agent shopping spree, Blake will be in for a bit of a culture shock in Leafland, where the spotlight never shuts off. Coming from a franchise that is a mere blip on the radar of the New York sporting scene, the former Islander must adapt to being in the limelight 24/7. Not only that, but he finds himself a teammate of Darcy Tucker, who drew the wrath of Blake's Islanders and their fans when his hit knocked Michael Peca out of the 2002 playoffs. In a wide-ranging interview with Sun Media's Mike Zeisberger, Blake addresses all these subjects as he looks forward to donning the blue-and-white:

SUN MEDIA: Let's get the Darcy Tucker issue out of the way first. Will it be awkward, in any way, to be a teammate of a guy who was severely despised on Long Island, so much so that bitter fans made up signs with slogans such as "Mother Tucker?"

BLAKE: It won't be awkward at all. We're all men here. We're all professionals. Obviously this is not a friendly sport we're involved in, and sometimes things happen. Yes, he upset a lot of us in 2002. But you know what? He's one of those guys you hate to play against but you respect him, especially if you are one of his teammates. The guy can have shenanigans, sure, but he is very effective and competitive out there.

I remember last season when I talked to Michael Peca, who had just signed with Toronto. Michael is one of my best friends and I asked him who he was hanging around with. When he said Darcy Tucker, I couldn't believe it. But Michael had great things to say about him. He said Darcy was a good guy, a good teammate and was doing a lot to make Michael feel welcome.

I'm a competitive guy, just like Darcy, and I look forward to playing with him.

SUN MEDIA: Michael Peca remains a free agent. How much would you like to see the Leafs re-sign him so you can be teammates again?

BLAKE: Michael would love to come back. As I said, he's a great friend. On the ice and in the dressing room, he's a real leader. And he's a better offensive player than some people give him credit for.

SUN MEDIA: Your intensity has led the odd observer to label you as "selfish." Is that a bad rap?

BLAKE: Very much so. That's one of the reasons Michael and I are such good friends. He really understands me. I'm a competitive guy and am always focused on the goal of winning. If that's taken the wrong way, I don't understand why. I just want to win. Michael is the same way. There should be nothing wrong with that.

SUN MEDIA: You have spent the past two Augusts skating on Long Island with a handful of NHLers, including another one of your new teammates, Bryan McCabe. How well do you know Bryan?

BLAKE: I usually head back to the New York area around August 15 and a bunch of us skate. There's Bryan, Chris Higgins, Mike Komisarek, among others. I don't know Bryan that well, but I do know I hated to play against him because he's so good. He's mobile, he's physical and he's got the big shot. Like Tucker, the guys you don't like playing against are the guys who are really good.

SUN MEDIA: As a kid growing up in Minnesota, who was your childhood idol?

BLAKE: Truthfully, it was Greg Norman. In Minnesota at the time, we didn't get a lot of hockey games. But, in a hockey sense, I'd have to say Wayne Gretzky. I met him at the Olympics and got to spend a couple of hours with him. That was so cool.

SUN MEDIA: How did you get involved in hockey?

BLAKE: My dad belonged to a country club and a lot of the parents there had their kids enrolled in hockey. I followed suit and went on from there.

SUN MEDIA: You were a high-school scoring star with the Moorhead (Minn.) Spuds in 1991-92, netting 30 goals and adding 30 assists in 25 games. Spuds? What is the deal with that nickname?

BLAKE: There are a lot of potato farms in and around Moorhead, so that was our nickname. There were no spuds on our jerseys, though. Just a big "M."

SUN MEDIA: Finally, has the fact that you are a Maple Leaf completely sunk in?

BLAKE: It has and it hasn't. It will probably completely sink in once I get there. Everything has been first class, from the organization to the way I have been treated by the Toronto media. Even the equipment guy, Brian Papineau, has been great. I'm really excited.


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