Tribute to Mike Knuble

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(Photo: Washington Capitals)

Player Description
opinion Michael Rudolph Knuble was born in Toronto, Canada on July 4, 1972 to a Latvian couple, who had immigrated to America as refugees after World War II. Mike was born in Canada because his dad’s company had transferred him there. But the Knubles moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan where they raised both Mike and his younger brother, Steve. Mike was a dual citizen of both Canada and the United States. Both boys got very interested in hockey and played since childhood. Tragically, Mike’s father, Aivars, died of a heart attack while Mike was a teenager. Aivars had dropped his son off at his high school golf tryouts, went outside to run, came home, and had a heart attack when seated in a chair in the recreation room.

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Mike and son Cole, 2012 (Photo: Toni L. Sandys/Washington Post)

Mike was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the fourth round of the NHL entry draft but did not play for them immediately as he first played four years of college hockey with the Michigan Spartans and then two years of minor league hockey with their NHL farm team, the Adirondack Red Wings, finally making it to the Red Wings at the end of the 1996-97 season in time for their Stanley Cup although he played in no playoff games and did not get his name engraved on the Cup. The following year, he did get his name engraved on the Cup as he played just over half of the games. Following that season, he was traded to the New York Rangers where he stayed for 2 years. He had 15 goals his first year there but did not play as much the following year. After that, he was traded to the Boston Bruins. For most of his career, he had been perceived as a grinder and generally played on the fourth line. But in 2002, due to Sergei Samsonov getting a broken arm, the Bruins’ coach, Robbie Ftorek, placed him with Joe Thornton and Glen Murray and he scored a goal that night and continued to do well in that slot. Ftorek initially figured that almost anyone could do well with Thornton and Murray and tried another player there, but that particular player did not do anywhere as well. Hence, Knuble ended up back on the first line and ended up with 30 goals the 2002-2003 season and participated in the playoffs, too. This was at age 30. He followed up that season with a 21 goal season, proving that getting 30 goals was no fluke. He was an example of being a late bloomer in professional sports.

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(Photo: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

During the off-season of 2004, he signed a 3 year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, but did not play with them until after the lockout ended in 2005. He ended up spending four years with the Flyers, getting between 25-30 goals in each of them. He started off his Flyers career on a line with rookie Mike Richards and Joe Sin but was soon moved up to the top line with Simon Gagne and Peter Forsberg. In the Round 1 of the 2008 playoffs, he had scored the game winning goal against the Caps in Game 4 against the Caps.

thank-you-knubleHe signed a 2 year deal with the Caps as a free agent on July 2, 2009. During 2009-2010 season, he scored 29 goals, despite missing some time with an injury. The following season, he scored 24 goals. Both years, he was a great contributor to the team and a great leader. A pair of fans named Nathan and Ryan started calling themselves “Knuble’s Knights” in his honor, complete with costumes. He re-signed with the Caps for a third season but had trouble finding the back of the net, only scoring 6 goals, with 12 assists, being demoted down to the fourth line and even being healthy scratched. But he had a key assist in Joel Ward’s Overtime goal against the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Round 1 playoff series. And he also played in his 1000th game, where his family came onto the ice as the Caps did a tribute to his career.

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(Photo: Washington Capitals)

A Fans Perspective
July 2, 2009 was a memorable day. It was a birthday for me but not memorable for personal celebrations since my family members were either out-of-town or working late. Instead, it was memorable since the Washington Capitals signed Mike Knuble as a free agent. In spite of the fact that he was about to turn 37 years old, it was a much heralded acquisition as he was slated to take over the top line right-wing slot vacated by Viktor Kozlov who had already signed with the KHL. I mostly was familiar with Knuble as the top line right-winger with one of the Capitals’ arch-rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. He would give the Caps an element they needed badly – a guy to play close to the net and take advantage of passes from skilled players and “pick up the garbage”, so to speak, as in getting the “dirty” goals. He was an acquisition I looked forward to seeing, in spite of the fact that I had previously hoped that one of my other favorites; i.e. Eric Fehr or Alexander Semin, would slot into that vacant 1RW slot.

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(Photo: NHL)

Upon hearing of his acquisition, I did some research about him on the Internet and was intrigued by him. I’ll admit the closeness of our birthdays helped inspire it, as I was born on July 2 and he was born on July 4. He was born in Canada but was the child of naturalized American citizens. I myself had spent my pre-school years in Canada, but was American born so there was the Canada connection there, too. In the summer before the hockey season, I recall him saying that he was spending his summer going to his kids’ sporting activities, which is something I could relate to, as that had been my main activity for so many years. That particular summer was the last year of that, as my youngest was going off to college that fall. I learned he was the child of Latvian immigrants who had fled to America after World War II and admit I’ve been fascinated by Eastern Europe during my lifetime and had known many children and/or grandchildren of Eastern European immigrants back in high school. I was also intrigued with the fact that he was a late bloomer, career-wise, who was better after turning 30 than before. In a way, he reminded me of the actor, Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo, in the original Star Wars series. Ford, like Knuble, was also a relatively late bloomer in the acting field. To my female eyes, Knuble was handsome, even in spite of scars he had received during the course of his playing career. He was a mature type of handsome, as opposed to a “pretty boy” and that was a quality that impressed me about Harrison Ford, also. His surname of Knuble sounded vaguely similar to “Kenobi” as in the Star Wars character, Obi-Wan Kenobi, continuing with the Star Wars theme.


(Tribute Video: LuvDCaps)

When the Caps started training camp and started playing their preseason games, Knuble looked like a great addition on the power play. Along came a pre-season game when Knuble did not play and it seemed the power play was “lost” without him.

In addition to seeing him play, I was hoping I could meet him in person, since he sounded like the type of person I would like. Yet, somehow our paths did not cross during his first season with the team, although I had met several of the other players. I finally did meet him – during the 2010 Caps Convention. I had signed up to have a picture taken with him. When it was my turn, he even asked me my name and I told him. In any case, it was a great moment. That winter, I even ran into him at Kettler on another occasion when his younger son was taking part in a game there and I was there to skate in one of the public skating sessions.

During his initial two-year contract, I marveled at his great productivity for a relatively advanced age. But then the following year, he had trouble finding the back of the net and was moved down to the fourth line and occasionally even healthy scratched. I would not have guessed it when I watched training camp. That was the year the Caps were doing a harder training camp and had the guys skate sprints. Knuble seemed to be the one with the best endurance at the end, seeming like he was in better shape than the guys in his group (Semin, Ovi, Laich, and poor Casey Wellman), who the others left far behind.

Mike, you are missed. I can’t help but be partial to a man whose celebrates his birthday so close to my own. He was like a fine wine that became better with age. I will never forget his comment of considering himself a “low mileage” player since the guys who had played more often when younger would have more physical problems when they’d get older.

By Diane Doyle

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His passion for the Caps has grown over the decades, which has included time as a season ticket holder, social media and community organizer, and most recently led to the founding of NoVa Caps in 2014. Jon earned a Bachelor's of Science in Engineering at Old Dominion University, and is a Systems Engineer during intermissions, which has been instrumental in supporting his Capitals habit.
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