Reinvent Yourself – The Dan Blackburn Story

by Jean-Francois Belisle on November 6, 2009

in Hockey,Personal Branding

Bad events are always important opportunities to reinvent yourself or to think about what went wrong. The recession is/was a good example for many organizations. On a more personal side, this Wednesday, I dislocated my left shoulder and spent a beautiful six hours (11PM to 5AM) at the hospital waiting for this nightmare to end. I was playing hockey as a goaltender when I fell on my left shoulder; a second shoulder dislocation in the last five years. Everything’s not lost, at least I am not a professional goaltender, this is not my career, God bless.

The Dan Blackburn story

This injury leads me to the story of Dan Blackburn. Dan Blackburn was a young goaltender born in Montréal in 1983, who was named in 2001 the Canadian Hockey League’s (CHL; which includes QMJHL, OHL and WHL) most valuable player. The same year, he was drafted by the New York Rangers in the first round (10th overall) of the 2001 National Hockey League (NHL) Entry Draft. Blackburn made the New York Rangers team in 2001-2002 and became the third youngest goalie to win a NHL game. Unfortunately, two years later, Blackburn missed the entire 2003–04 NHL season due to a serious nerve injury to his left shoulder sustained just before training camp. He had nerve exploration surgery on March 31, 2004 and as his injury rendered him incapable of rotating his glove hand, Blackburn was forced to retired in 2005, at the age of 22. Afterwards, Blackburn enrolled at Arizona State University and became a manager of business development for the Goaltender Development Institute and now loves his new role. Even though Blackburn had to retire prematurely, his passion for hockey and knowledge of the game allowed him to continue to work in the same environment although in a totally different role. Other perhaps even more interesting examples in hockey also include former major NHL deception Gord Kluzak who ended up earning an MBA from Harvard University and having jobs as an analyst for Goldman Sachs and later on as a commentator for ESPN.

Dan Blackburn when he was with the New York Rangers

Dan Blackburn when he was with the New York Rangers

What can we learn from the Dan Blackburn story

Without wanting to make an Anthony Robbins of myself, the most important things we can learn from the Dan Blackburn/Gord Kluzak career changes are:
1. Past knowledge clearly helps in career change;
2. In terms of personal branding, being known helps to ease career switch;
3. Education brings credibility;

Past knowledge clearly helps in career change

In the case of Dan Blackburn, the knowledge he acquired as a goaltender and in hockey in general helped him to crack an organization using his past knowledge. He certainly had more than 10,000 hours of knowledge, passion and hard work under his belt. Even though he was quite raw in terms of business knowledge, he knew the industry before he stepped on the plate.

In terms of personal branding, being known helps to ease career switch

Connections are always important for future jobs; being connected with others in main social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) is always suggested. But being known because of positive screen presence is always an a priori edge for being hired. Olympic athletes, make yourselves visible!

Education brings credibility

I have always been a huge proponent of the argument that education brings success. Arguably, I am totally biased on this issue with four completed post-secondary degrees and another in-completion. Adding some letters on a business card like BBA or MBA is always useful and makes it easier to start many conversations.

Conclusion

So what do you think about the case story of Dan Blackburn? Do you know interesting examples of career changes that where really a success? Even more personal ones? Can you add a fourth point to my analysis?

Jean-Francois Belisle

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Marc Poulin November 7, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Four completed post-secondary degrees and another in progress.
What’s going on? Can’t get a job? Maybe it’s the beard …
Ha Ha! just a joke, except for the beard ;-)

2 Jean-Francois Belisle November 7, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Lol, Marc at his best. it seems like the beard is now an integrative part of my personal branding, so why should I shave it, what do you think Thomas Mulcair would look like without a beard?

3 Sam Gex-Fabry November 7, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Very interesting subject, and probably one of the most original/unique examples, considering that the vast majority of athletes choose is seldom something other than coaching or working for the press/TV.

I think the third point is also very valid, though past performance is also a factor impacting credibility. Though Kluzak was no Crosby, he still was in the NHL, which puts him ahead of most players in European leagues for example.

As always, soccer has tons of examples of carreer reorientations (though most of them were not “forced” after an injury but the result of retirement from competition). Most of the coaches in professional teams are former players who completed some sort of “coach diploma”. Same for most of the consultants who are invited on TV or who comment games. But the ones who get the best first jobs are those who were famous players and who performed as athletes in the first place.

(It would take some time to mention them all but in France, most the players who won the 1998 World Cup now work for major TV channels, radios, magazines, and two of them coach Bordeaux and Marseille, some of the highest performing teams).

4 Jean-Francois Belisle November 8, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Thanks for the nice comment Sam. Plenty of interesting examples. You raised a nice point between forced and not forced career change and the impact of already knowing the industry without necessarily knowing the role. The video game industry is another good example of this kind of knowledge, the company puts forward your experience as a user as an asset for being hired. I think, related to point 3 like you mention, what can be concluded here is, wherever the career change is forced (injury, job cuts) or not, personal branding should be developed/optimized across time.

5 Jean-Francois Monfette November 9, 2009 at 9:57 am

Shoulder dislocation, ouch ! I wish you a quick recovery.

It’s very interesting to find out what happened to Dan Blackburn and Gord Kluzak. Most hockey players could take notes since they often stop playing around 35, and find themselves with nothing to do.

On a hockey note, you label Gord Kluzak a major deception, which is only true due to multiples knee injuries. When he played, he was very good. In four seasons, he managed to reach the conference final and the Stanley Cup final (after his third major knee surgery), while putting up good offensive numbers for a defenseman and playing a solid hard hitting defensive style.

6 Jean-Francois Belisle November 9, 2009 at 1:03 pm

@Jean-Francois, I wish I will recover fast also. For Blackburn and Kluzak, that can counterbalance for hockey players who have difficulties of aligning three words in a sentence. The same principle could be applied to Olympic athletes.

On a more hockey note, yes Kluzak was good when he was healthy, but for a first overall pick, this is not meeting expectations, same thing for what is presently happening to Rick DiPietro, also a first overall pick. I completely agree that this is a different story compared to other first overall picks busts like Brian Lawton and Alexandre Daigle who were unproductive when healthy.

7 Hugues Mallette November 12, 2009 at 12:09 am

Isn’t Blackburn who returned to the game using two blockers??

P.S. Can I ask you what they told you about the dislocation? I got one in the gym a few weeks ago and I’m wondering what’s best thing to heal it. Took some rest but I still get some pain from time to time…

PPS. Is it mandatory to speak in English on this blog? :S

8 Jean-Francois Belisle November 12, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Thanks for commenting Hugues.

You are totally right, Blackburn was forced to be a two-blocker guy with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) in 2004-2005 before retiring. You can see the stats at Hockey DB – Dan Blackburn.

For the dislocated shoulder, it was my second dislocation to the same shoulder, so it was already slacked and for the moment it is not hurting that much. I was prescribed rest, rest and rest and the very hardcore kind of Advil in case of pain, so I’m pretty sure that’s not helping you that much. No “hardcore lifting” or sports before three months and no handraising for two weeks.

For the language, I created the blog in English to make it more accessible internationally. Even though most comments are written by french-speaking users, half of the blog traffic is international. Personally, I would prefer to read comments in OK-English than comments in perfect French.

9 Jean-Francois Belisle November 19, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Ok ok, I cut my beard, so no more personal branding related to my beard for the moment.

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