Published April 29, 2011
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- They came from very different cultures when it comes to hockey, but both Cody Franson and Jonathon Blum will both tell you the impact Western Hockey League coach Don Hay had on their careers is why they're manning the blue line with the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Blum, a native of Long Beach, Calif., and Franson, from Salmon Arm, B.C., first met and played together during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons with the WHL's Vancouver Giants under the tutelage of Hay.
"I owe that guy a lot. He was a great junior coach for me, he taught me how to be a pro basically," Franson said of Hay. "He didn't make anything easier on me. He teaches you, he's not just a coach that's out there to win, he teaches you things that you need to know to be a pro hockey player and I can't thank him enough for it."
For Blum, who moved to Vancouver from a city where surfing is the biggest sport, the learning curve was much steeper in the early going.
"He was unbelievable, me coming from Southern California systems-wise, discipline-wise stuff like that I didn't know better," Blum recalled. "I came in as a 16-year-old, and he really pounded it in me to have a good work ethic, how to be a pro and come to the rink everyday wanting to get better."
In their two seasons together in Vancouver the defensemen won a WHL title in 2006, and a Memorial Cup in 2007 -- experience that both players still draw on today while playing in the second round of the NHL playoffs.
"It's definitely different, but you look at the Memorial Cup, it's a hard tournament to win, it takes a lot of sacrifice and a team game," said Blum, the first California-born player ever selected in the first round of the NHL draft. "You can really carry that over to the Stanley Cup playoffs because you need to have a good team, the guys are tight in the locker room – it's what you play 82 games for is these moments."
Hay, who coached Phoenix and Calgary in the NHL and has coached the Giants for the past six seasons, was at the Predators' practice on Friday afternoon and had a chance to catch-up with his former players before they hit the ice.
According to the 57-year-old, the work ethic that both players have is what helped them get to where they are today.
"You never know how players are going to develop or what stage they're going to develop, but the one thing about both those young men was that they're very coachable, work very hard and they did the right thing to help their career move ahead," Hay said. "You need those things to grow and you need the discipline in your life to get better every day. That's what they've done, they've just got better and better – now they're at the point where they're going to continue to get better."
Franson, Nashville's third-round selection in 2005, and Blum, the Predators' first-round selection in 2007, admit that despite being selected by the same organization, they didn't envision themselves sitting in the position they're in today -- two stalls away from one another in a NHL dressing room.
"I never thought we'd be playing on the same power play line in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs," Blum said. "It's all pretty cool. I know when I got drafted, up in the suite after the Predators were talking the future me and Cody back on the blue line, now it's here it's pretty cool to see that and to be able to share that with him. We won championships together.
"He's one of my best friends on the teams so it's awesome and hopefully we can win a Stanley Cup together."
Nashville coach Barry Trotz didn't hold back when crediting Hay and his program for the success of Franson and Blum.
"He's one of the best junior coaches in the country, I got a couple of his kids and he's done a great job. I'm just a fan of Don Hay," he said. "We benefit from good programs. I'm a Western Canadian guy and I spend my summers a little bit here in B.C. It's no disrespect, but I'm very familiar with the Vancouver program."
Credit for their development also goes to the Predators farm system in Milwaukee. Franson spent parts of three seasons there while Blum played nearly two full seasons with the Admirals.
"Our top players – Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, they're 25 and 26 years of age, all these guys including Jonathon Blum, they all know each other," GM David Poile said. "They all got drafted, they all come to the conditioning camps together.
"Then they all played in Milwaukee so that's one or two years. When Blum comes up here, it's not like he doesn't know anybody. He's played with these guys a lot. I think that's really helped him."
If all goes well Poile, and the Predators, hope they have a couple more Norris Trophy finalists in the years to come.
"They're great, they're both going to have a long career here in the NHL," said goaltender Pekka Rinne. "They're both already, even though they're young, solid players. They both have good puck skill and both have a good shot.
"They're puck-moving D-men and have a lot of skill; they almost seem to get better every day."