As the son of Latvian immigrants growing up in Kentwood, Mich., Mike Knuble
often heard stories about how little his parents and grandparents had before coming to America.
It made him appreciate the food on his table and warm clothes he wore during those cold Michigan winters.
It also instilled in him the values of hard work, perseverance and dedication, qualities that served him well throughout his 12-year NHL career and made him a unanimous candidate for this season's Bill Masterton
Only two Flyers – Bobby Clarke
in 1972 and Tim Kerr
in 1989 – have won the Masterton Trophy, which will be awarded June 18 at the NHL's annual awards banquet in Las Vegas. Knuble said he is both flattered and humbled by his nomination and said his new goal is to reach 1,000 games sometime in the 2011-12 season. Scheduled to become a free agent this summer, he said he'd love to reach the milestone as a Flyer.
"I'd love to do that, it would be awesome," he said. "I've already played the most games in my career here. It's been a great ride here and a big reason for wanting to stay is the nucleus we have is only going to get better. It's a great team to be a part of."
At 36, Knuble remains one of the Flyers' leaders on the ice and one of their most charitable players off the ice, providing others with the same essentials he swore he'd never take for granted.
"I think as you get older, you realize the position you're in," Knuble said. "We're probably looked at a little bit differently than a lot of people. If you understand that you realize you have some resources you can use to help other people out, help your community out."
In December, 12 days before Christmas, Knuble took up a collection from his Flyers' teammates and went on an $8,000 shopping spree at a local Target, where he bought coats, clothes and toys and delivered them to Camden Rescue Mission, a charitable organization that annually serves 7,000 needy children at a holiday party.
Knuble has also been a spokesman for breast cancer awareness (his mother is a breast cancer survivor) and holds two annual golf outings -- one in the Philadelphia area and one in Grand Rapids, Mich. -- to benefit the Van Andel Institute, an independent research organization focusing on cancer, Parkinson and cardio-vascular disease research. Knuble's father died of cardiac arrest when Knuble was a teenager.
"It takes some work and you need some good people around you," Knuble said. "You get all the credit, but there are always good people behind you putting it all together."
Knuble could probably say the same thing about his hockey career. As a freshman at the University of Michigan, Knuble never thought of himself as much more than a good college hockey player.
But when his goal totals increased from 26 to 32 to 34 during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, the Detroit Red Wings
signed him to a pro contract. Two years after graduating from Michigan, Knuble was sipping from the Stanley Cup as a rookie member of the Red Wings and experienced the same sweet taste after his second season in the NHL.
But when the Red Wings traded Knuble to the New York Rangers
following their second Stanley Cup in a row, the sturdy power forward began a four-year stretch of relative obscurity.
From 1998 through 2002, the Rangers and Bruins used Knuble primarily as a third-line grinder. In his first seven NHL seasons, Knuble managed just 50 goals.
It wasn't until he turned 30 and Bruins coach Robbie Ftorek
put him on a top line with Joe Thornton
and Glen Murray
that Knuble's career took off. Knuble scored a career-high 30 goals in that 2002-03 season, and since turning 30, he's scored 184 goals. In fact, no one in the NHL aged 35 or older had more goals this season than Knuble, who finished the season with 27 goals and 20 assists.
"I've only had (offensive) numbers since I turned 30," Knuble said. "I was lucky to still be in the League and I'm glad Boston gave me a chance (in 2002-03). They had a chance to let me go and I'll bet a lot of people in the organization wanted to let me go. Some guys who are good players never get the right chance at the right time and they kind of fade away. I was probably right on the cusp of that. I scored 30 goals and suddenly my career goes in another direction.
"I think as you get older, you realize the position you're in. We're probably looked at a little bit differently than a lot of people. If you understand that you realize you have some resources you can use to help other people out, help your community out."
-- Mike Knuble
"Even though those years were tough and I didn't want to be a part-time player, I guess I just hung on and kept working and I got my chance. Sometimes you get a chance and don't run with it. I was very, very fortunate and I guess I ran with mine."
Knuble's second chance came in Philadelphia when he signed as a free agent in 2004. In his first season with the Flyers, he played on a line with Peter Forsberg
and Simon Gagne
and produced a career-high 34 goals.
"It has to do with your teammates," Knuble said. "I got to play with Pete and Simon right out of the gate. That's a huge part of it to be a successful player. I feel lucky to stay healthy and be a consistent player in Philly. I enjoy playing here."
This season, Knuble has found himself primarily on a line with Gagne and Mike Richards
"He always seems to be in the right position in front of the net," Richards said. "He gets the gritty goals that you need. He's got a great shot and pucks seem to find their way in."