The NHL Awards were held in Toronto last night. Last year I was able to go as a seat filler which was pretty neat. Roberto Luongo has monkey arms and everyone is a lot taller than you would think. No Leafs won awards last year but last night Jason Blake won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his perseverance in the face of a chilling cancer diagnosis.
Sometimes it was easy for me to forget that he was playing under an incredible mental strain. The massive bags under his eyes were testament to the fact that athletes cannot be held to a higher standard than the average fan. Part of it was the reports that Blake was dealing with a highly treatable form of cancer that was described as being controlled through a single pill taken daily. Part of it was that Blake seemed so sure of himself and his ability to deal with the bombshell.
Paul Hunter's look at Blake reveals that the winger struggled much more mightily with the news than he had previously admitted. With three young children at home the prospect of not seeing them grow up became much more important than whether or not he was playing well for the Leafs. It goes a long way to explaining why he would break out the massive fist pump for goals regardless of how they were scored. Those moments were probably the only ones where he truly escaped the shadow that hung over his life.
After a post-season claim that he would welcome a trade he has reflected on what has gone on and decided that he wants to succeed as a Leaf. He has had an entire year to understand his situation and to see that, working with the staff at Princess Margaret Hospital, his prognosis is excellent. The weight on his shoulders, while not being completely lifted, seems to have dissipated to the extent that he can make just playing hockey his focus in life again rather than wondering whether he'll be alive to see his children's next milestones. Hopefully, as his prognosis continues to improve, he can have the season that we all expected from him and that he wants to deliver.