Every day, at some unexpected moment, a memory of Jon Blum’s twin sister pops in his head. Invariably, the questions follow, questions he would give anything to have answered.
“What would she be doing now? What college would she have gone to? When would she have had kids?” asked Blum, his eyes fixated on the carpet. “She had so much potential. There are big question marks.”
As Jon Blum grew up playing hockey in southern California, Ashley Blum attended most every one of his games. They had lockers next to each other at Trabuco Hills High School in Mission Viejo, had the same math class.
“She was my biggest fan,” said the 25-year-old Blum, a defenseman the Wild will rely upon heavily during its playoff push. “It’s been almost 10 years to the day.”
On April 2, 2004, when Jon and his sister were only 15, Ashley, who had come home from school earlier that day because she was ill, was sleeping when their house caught fire because of a gas leak. Blum and his family were at a hospital 20 minutes away visiting a relative who was undergoing surgery. A neighbor called them to rush home.
“We dropped everything,” Blum said. “About a mile from the house, we saw the ambulance and followed it home. A couple hours later, you get word your sister is gone and the house you grew up in for 15 years has burned down. Your life changes forever.”
The loss of Jon’s sister presents a big void in his life. Ashley wanted to be a chef, and the two would joke about how someday when he made it to the NHL, she would be his personal chef.
On Sunday, in the middle of the Wild’s upcoming four-game road trip, Blum will travel to Los Angeles with the Wild, where it plays Jon’s favorite team as a kid, the Kings, on Monday.
“It’ll be nice to be with my family,” Blum said. “This is definitely a tough time of year, and this being the 10-year anniversary, we can honor her memory together. You never forget no matter how old you are and how long it’s been.”
Hockey and surfing
California isn’t a hockey hotbed, but Jon Blum got the hockey bug as a child when he and a dozen of his friends would play roller hockey in his cul-de-sac in Rancho Santa Margarita, which is about 25 minutes south of Anaheim.
“The sewer drains would be our goals,” Blum said.
At age 6, he tried on ice skates for the first time at a birthday party and fell in love. By 8, he joined the California Wave, a youth hockey program that would travel to such places as Quebec City, Toronto, Chicago, Denver and Detroit.
“My parents [John and Dana] owned a motor home, and our ice was up in Huntington Beach,” Blum said. “We’d play an 8 a.m. game on a Saturday, and my parents would take the whole team and the coaches to the beach after. We’d surf for four to six hours and have a barbecue. California is pretty laid back. Whenever you can go play a hockey game and then go surf afterward, it makes it all the better.”
The Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League drafted Blum in the seventh round in 2004, only that late because in those days, it was atypical for American teenagers to leave home to play major Canadian junior hockey.
“We got lucky,” said Don Hay, longtime coach of the Giants. “He’s one of the best we’ve had and in his four years, he had maybe more success than any player we’ve had.”
Blum played in two Memorial Cups, winning the Canadian hockey league title in 2007. In four years, Blum scored 49 goals and 204 points and was the CHL Defenseman of the Year in 2009.