Jesse Blacker: The evolution of a hockey player

Feb. 25, 2012 by S-Mo

Jesse Blacker, taken in the 2nd round of the 2009 NHL entry draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, is making a case for himself as a pro and appears to be on the verge of taking the next step to the big league.

The 6’1”, 195 lb native of Toronto has been enjoying top minutes with one of the best defensive teams in the AHL, the Toronto Marlies, under the tutelege of coach Dallas Eakins and Gord Dineen among others. Whether applying his craft to sound positional play, learning the ropes in after hour sessions on the ice, reviewing tape or building his conditioning in the gym, Jesse is truly soaking up his experience and has little time for anything not hockey related.

Speaking with Jesse today we discussed some of his earlier triumphs, notably with the OHL champion Owen Sound Attack last year, and the learning curves and inspirations on the road to pro hockey.

Last year:

“We were the underdogs ( Owen Sound Attack ), we weren’t even expected to make the playoffs so to win it the way we did was just incredible”

True that, when the championship goal was scored at the Hershey centre the term ‘Bayshore South’ became completely evident…

“Oh it was awesome, the fan support up there was amazing,”

Jesse was also a member of the Memorial Cup winning Windsor Spitfires in 2009.

Playing for coach Mark Reeds, who since was hired as an assistant coach by the Ottawa Senators, was a good experience for him.

“I learned a lot playing for coach Reeds, he really listened to us and put us in a position to be successful and I wished him good luck going to the NHL”

This year:

Making the jump from the OHL to the pros is no small task for any player, one marked by the need for consistency, as Jesse noted. ”If you make a mistake it’s a lot harder to make up for it up here, you usually cost your team,” something that assistant coach Gord Dineen recently made note of as well. ”We could always see he had the skill, his skating ability is his strongest asset, but now he has an understanding of the position…that is going to define him.”

“Everything starts with the back end, Jesse has helped stabilize our core”.

More recently Dineen noted Blacker’s improvement. “His reads, knowing when to go with the puck and when to move it, that has been the biggest improvement I’ve seen.”

Earlier in the year, back at camp where Jesse got to enjoy some lighter moments with former Attack defensive partner Matt Stanisz, Rick Dudley noted “Wonderful skater, can do a lot of things on the ice. His ability to get up and down the ice makes it, in junior hockey, very tempting for him to be up the ice all the time. All he has to do – as he has all the ability in the world – is learn to temper that a little bit and learn when to go.” It would seem Jesse has been listening and learning from some of the best.

Playing for coach Eakins has been a good experience for Jesse as well noting Dallas is not afraid to utilize the players that are playing well; not just input by the numbers, a meritocracy if you will. The numbers for the Marlies speak for themselves, currently sitting atop their division with the 4th-best goals against in the league and tied for 8th in goals for, good for 3rd in their conference.

The Toronto Marlies are also first in the AHL in penalty killing percentage and power play goals against, an impressive statistic that speaks to their defensive acumen and team first play; the point of which was understood by Jesse as he refuted individual success and would only nod to his team.

“We’ve been successful as a team, first and always.”

For much of the year Jesse has played his offside with partner Korbinian Holzer patrolling the right side. But that kind of flexibility in positioning comes naturally. Jesse killed penalties on the left side with the Attack while taking the right side on the power play last year too, something that can only be a benefit in the long run.

Citing Matt Lashoff as a role model, Jesse has taken the opportunities as they’ve come while realizing that only happens when you seize the moment by being prepared. It’s something Lashoff demonstrates in the locker room, on the ice and in the gym. “He leads by example and shows how a pro does it on a daily basis.”

In the world of pro hockey the trade deadline can be an ordeal. Such leadership is needed to remember to deal with what’s in your control. ”You don’t think about it, it’s just like anything else, you take it game by game, shift by shift and do your job.”

The hometown product was overjoyed to be selected by the Leafs and absolutely loves playing in Toronto and it says here, that feeling is mutual.

Look for Jesse to be knocking on the door in the very near future.

S-Mo is a Leafs fan and hockey homer in the form of an aggregate artist/writer/human being.

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