CEDAR RAPIDS — A real, live, honest-to-goodness hockey hall of famer was at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena this weekend.
We could be talking about any of the kids that took part in the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders’ annual tryout camp, of course. There may have been a couple of future great ones.
But Los Angeles Kings Vice President/General Manager Rob Blake spent time here, too, as his son, Jack, was one of the kids trying out for a potential spot on the 2019-2020 Riders. Jack Blake is a 17-year-old defenseman who was a RoughRiders draft pick last month, spending this past season in the powerhouse Shattuck St. Mary’s prep school program in Minnesota.
He is committed to play college hockey at Bowling Green, where his dad starred before embarking on a 22-year National Hockey League career. Rob Blake won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001, an Olympic gold medal with Canada in 2002 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.
“The opening meeting with all the kids and everything (Thursday), I haven’t had to sit through those in a number of years,” Rob Blake said. “It’s good, fun to watch my son. It’s good for him to learn and see the level of competititon here, for sure.”
Blake lauded the United States Hockey League, whose profile has grown exponentially since the RoughRiders joined it for the 1999-2000 season. The USHL had a record 57 players selected in last summer’s NHL Draft, with 14 of the 17 league teams having at least one.
This year’s NHL Draft is June 21-22, with some draft “experts” predicting the USHL could have as many as seven or eight first-round picks, most of them from a power-packed United States National Team Development Program.
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“(The USHL) takes steps each year,” Blake said. “We keep a real close eye on it, because there are really good players coming here. I think the skill level and the ability (of the players) is very high level. It is a terrific league to scout and really prepares these kids for the college step and the pros.”
Camp concluded Sunday with a final all-star game of 43 players. It included seven returning players from last season and C.R.’s two 2019 first-round draft picks in forward Justin Hryckowian (Phase II) and forward Ty Voit (Phase I).
The goaltending battle will be particularly intriguing as the summer continues, as Blake Pietila (a second-team all-USHL selection) has moved on to Michigan Tech. Right now, it appears it’s a three-way battle between returnee Troy Kobryn, 2019 fifth-round draft pick Kaleb Johnson (a North Dakota commit) and affiliate roster guy Derek Mullahy (a Harvard commit).
“Blake did a great job last year,” Kobryn said. “I’m hoping to just come in and work as hard as I can and earn a spot. This is a very hard league, and you’ve got to earn it every day. You’ve got to prove yourself every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a game or practice or a workout. You’ve got to come ready to go.”
A 30-man initial protected player list and affiliate player list for the RoughRiders must be turned in by early July.
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