Veteran Mike Knuble brings wisdom to Flyers

Posted: January 29, 2013

IT'S HAPPENED before and it will happen again, and if Mike Knuble had his druthers it will happen more often in the years to come.

But it's still one of the more entertaining facets of hockey, watching two players side to side on a bench, one born somewhere around the time of the other's first foray into the professional game.

So the other night, as the camera zeroed in on a conversation between Scott Laughton and Mike Knuble on the bench in Florida, it was natural to wonder: What on earth could they be talking about? Was the 18-year-old Laughton - who was sent back to his junior team after the game - asking Knuble, 40, tips on scoring? Survival? Durability?

All of the above?

Or was Knuble asking Laughton what he thought a fair curfew time for his soon-to-be teenaged son should be?

"I don't know what we were talking about,'' Knuble said, laughing. "Might not have even been about hockey. Just stuff. Be a good player and a good teammate. Just talk about stuff, whether it's about hockey or just life.''

He is back for his 18th professional season, Knuble is, as difficult to shake from the game as he has been all that time once positioned in an opponent's crease. Mike Knuble has never been the fastest or the most gifted hockey player on the face of the earth, but if there was a stat for doggedness and persistence, he would undoubtedly be placed among the all-time leaders.

Two weeks ago his career seemed over when the Detroit Red Wings gave him a look-see and cut him. One week ago he was playing the first of a 25-game contract with the Grand Rapids Griffins, his hometown AHL team and where his wife Megan and his three children finally have settled after following him around to five NHL cities.

That alone, even without a work stoppage, might have moved most players to hang them up for good. Knuble, though, is one of those tear-the-shirt-off-my-back guys. Dating all the way back to when he wanted to be recruited by Michigan State but had to "settle" for the University of Michigan, Knuble has been driven by the utmost athletic generator, the desire to prove the majority wrong.

He was 30 and with his third NHL team before he scored more than 20 goals in a season. Then, as if he had decoded something, he scored more than 20 goals in eight straight seasons, including a 40-point effort 2 years ago with the Washington Capitals. But Knuble more or less disappeared once Dale Hunter appeared in Washington, and last season finished with just six goals and a plus-minus of minus-15, by far the worst of his pro career.

With a lockout looming, and his 40th birthday imminent, it was also the worst of timing. If the shirt wasn't actually being torn off, it sure seemed to be unraveling.

He kept skating, though. Kept the conditioning program that turned his career around 10 years before. One more chance. One more opportunity to make what has been, really, a lifelong point.

"I think I was ready for anything,'' he said of this latest chapter. "Just kind of waiting to see how things were going to shake out. Figured injuries were going to take a toll on teams early.

"I think that's proven to be true. I just didn't think it would happen this fast.''

Scott Hartnell, the most durable Flyer, went down with a broken toe. Already a little light on guys who get dirty in front of the net, the Flyers still had Knuble on speed-dial. At $750,000, he was a known quantity, and in a dressing room captained by a 25-year-old, seemed a nice addition to the veteran core, most of whom he had played with in his previous stop here.

And so he is back, wearing a new number but the same old outlook. Chug. Get dirty goals. Lead by example and, when necessary, through words as well.

"The other night at a team dinner it was Kimmo [Timonen], Jody Shelley and me and three of the young guys,'' Knuble said, laughing. "We had some stories. And the young guys got a kick out of them. Laugh about stuff. About mistakes you made along the way. Things that you've done, maybe lay down a couple of pitfalls for them that they may reap some benefit from and make a better decision.''

It's what veterans did for him. It's why veterans are needed for any up-and-coming team. Last year it was Jaromir Jagr turning the switch on for Hartnell and helping Claude Giroux grow into his current role, as heart and soul of this team. If Knuble can advance that in any way . . . well, it would be one more chance to prove that majority wrong.

"You hear them say all the time it's a young league,'' he said. "And then guys like Jagr and Ray Whitney play such huge roles. I don't play as big of a role as they do but hopefully we're making it better for the guys behind us. So teams don't freak out when guys get a certain age. They can make an honest assessment of each individual guy and not just decide because he's a certain age that he can't do it anymore.''


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: philly.com/

SamDonnellon

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