Cheers for Blake turn to boos for team

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:02 AM ET

Jason Blake wanted to be treated the same as any other Maple Leaf last night and unfortunately got his wish.

He was booed along with the rest for an awful 7-1 clubbing by the Carolina Hurricanes, a day after revealing he has chronic myelogenous leukemia.

He was cheered loudly when introduced in the starting lineup and played 17:24, with three shots on goal. Coach Paul Maurice even changed his line briefly, hoping to get something to inspire some life in the Air Canada Centre. But the Canes ran rings around Blake as much as any Leaf.

After an emotional press conference Monday and a second go-round with the media yesterday morning, Blake declined comment after the one-sided defeat.

"For me, nothing has changed with Jason," Maurice said. "I've not treated him any differently since Day 1 of camp (he was one of the few let in on Blake's condition) and that won't change now. Tonight, I thought he played the same as everyone else."

In a word, lousy.

And in keeping with the NHL's unique code of behaviour, those opposing players who lined up to support him, were lining him up for a hit last night.

"By playing him any differently, that goes against what he's hoping for and it goes against his psyche," said Carolina's Erik Cole, a U.S. national team pal of Blake's. "I feel very disappointed for him. He comes to a great hockey town and a great team to establish himself as a scorer in this league and then he gets this devastating news.

"Jason is the type of guy who's going to be resilient and show a lot of character than maybe people have seen in him before. I think it's an experience he'll overcome and be a stronger person for it."

Before the game, Blake vowed playing with the illness will not affect him.

"I'm still going to be a little agitator out there," he said when asked if CML, a slow-growing cancer of the white blood cells, will alter his gung-ho game.

The Leafs are trying to abide by Blake's wishes to keep the daily atmosphere around him as normal as possible. Blake will take a pill called Gleevec daily and have his blood tested weekly, but Maurice does not expect he'll need assistance other than a change in some practice routines.

Yet you can expect protective teammates to be extra vigilant where the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Blake's physical well being is concerned, especially in post-whistle scrums.

"It's pretty hard for other teams not to go after him hard as they're used to doing," defenceman Andy Wozniewski said. "But there's also a certain respect that comes out of what he's going through. Maybe we would have to (step in), but I think any team would give him that respect."


Videos

Photos