Started from the bottom, now we’re here. I doubt Drake wrote those lyrics with Blake Coleman in mind – but he should have.
On Feb.14, 2020, Coleman was part of a New Jersey Devils 5-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Two days later he was on a plane headed for Tampa Bay; he wasn’t just climbing to a higher altitude, he was joining a club higher in the NHL standings.
When the Devils traded him to the Tampa Bay Lightning, fans weren’t too familiar with the 5-foot-11 forward – he was a bottom-six forward on an underachieving team. But Devils fans knew the gem the Lightning were getting.
An Instant Fan Favorite in New Jersey
Devils fans knew Coleman was special from the beginning. He was selected 75th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft and scored his first career goal on March 26, 2017, fittingly against his hometown team, the Dallas Stars. The following season he appeared in 79 games and finished with 25 points. In time, he developed into an excellent two-way forward and penalty killer. His on-ice play and his interaction with fans made him a favorite in New Jersey.
Diane Kuhn has been a Devils season ticket holder for 12 seasons and will continue to root for Coleman regardless of the logo on his jersey.
“Being a hockey fan for many years, I’ve seen my share of players come and go. As we learn it’s all part of the business. However, every now and again when certain players leave it hurts just a little bit more. One of those players that comes to mind is Blake Coleman or ‘Pickles’ as Devils fans called him,” said Kuhn. “Coleman would take the time to connect with fans. His persona on and off the ice quickly made him a fan favorite. Whether it was tossing pucks to young fans during warm-ups, or stopping after the game to sign autographs, he always came through.”
A Couple Highlight Reel Goals
Emily Leboeuf and her family run a sports store in New Jersey and have seen firsthand Coleman’s interactions with his fans.
“He has come to our store, Sports Minded Unlimited, for three autograph signings. The last was two weeks prior to his trade to Tampa Bay. At this point, he began to recognize fans and really gave them a true conversation and a moment to remember. Maybe it was his Texas roots, but he always had a smile on his face and good come back joke with the kids,” said Leboeuf. “When he scored an exceptional goal he would discuss it with fans and it was always a great interaction to watch.”
The Plano, Texas native isn’t expected to score flashy goals. However, he proved he is in fact capable of scoring exceptional highlight-reel goals, as he did against the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 4, 2019, in the Devils’ home opener. The one-handed goal was arguably the team’s best goal that season. Even as a depth player on a non-contending team, he was able to provide fans with memorable moments.
Recently, he did it again, scoring one of the best goals of the Stanley Cup Final in Game 2 against the Montreal Canadiens. It was similar to his masterpiece in 2019, but somehow the 29-year-old outdid himself. On June 30, he scored the game-winning goal with 1.1 seconds left in the period. It was a dagger in the Canadiens’ hopes, who couldn’t score after that. Tampa Bay fans saw how electric Coleman can be.
“It takes tremendous effort, I think, to dive like that for a puck and still get good wood on the shot enough to get it at the net and raise it over the pad,” Barclay Goodrow said after the game. “It’s a pretty special play. I think he’s got a knack for those diving shots.” Goodrow witnessed his linemate score a similar goal against the Boston Bruins in 2020.
Calgary Fans Receive A Good One
Believe it or not, Coleman was one of the bigger names available when free agency opened. After his three-year contract worth $1.8 million per season expired (signed with the Devils in 2018), he unexpectedly signed a six-year, $29.4 million deal with the Calgary Flames on July 28. Regardless of how fans feel about the contract, the Flames are a better team with the Stanley Cup winner on their roster.
Even though Coleman has not been in the league for long, he has established himself as a heart and soul player. He is a talented defensive forward, and his team can always count on him to bring the energy. He has 792 hits in 301 career games. In his time with New Jersey, he brought glimpses of hope for the future while reminding fans of the team’s golden years.
“Watching Coleman in New Jersey reminded me of the old days of Sergei Brylin. A hard to play against, go to the dirty areas player who eats up minutes. The kind of guy who makes players hate to play against him. He’s the type of player every successful team needs. The highlight goals were amazing to watch, but the willingness to do the dirty stuff that a lot of players in the NHL today are afraid to do is what makes him the player he is and why we loved watching him play in New Jersey,” said lifelong Devils fan Tom Saja.
The hockey world now knows what Devils fans have known for years, and Coleman can no longer be considered an underrated player. He was part of the magical third line that was instrumental in the Lightning’s back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships. The Flames are lucky to have him.
“I have to admit I’m a little jealous of Calgary fans at this moment. Not only are they getting a fantastic player that will not disappoint with his hockey skills, but a player who will warm his way into your hearts,” continued Kuhn. We know Devils fans agree.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and covers both the Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly Youtube show produced by THW. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettosBlog and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.