On this Valentines’ Day, many hockey fans across social media will share their love of their clubs’ superstars, cult heroes, and rising prospects. Though Flyers faithful share their admiration for popular players like Carter Hart, Travis Konecny, and Claude Giroux quite regularly, today is a special day where we spill our feelings in a superfluous and extravagant manner.
Today, I am no different. However, today’s letter is for a Flyer of the past.
Michael Rudolf Knuble, if I may call you by your full name, you are one of the reasons I first started properly following hockey. When you first signed with the Flyers as a free agent prior to the 2004-05 season, I was only passively showing an interest in hockey. I was eight years old, and I didn’t know of the full season lockout that would come, and my often wandering mind became invested in other sports like baseball while the NHL was not playing.
By the time the 2005-06 season was set to begin, I can remember being more invested in the goings on of Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard across Broad Street. However, I would be quickly swayed back to the realm of hockey by the mythic workings of one of the most dynamic lines I have ever had the pleasure to watch.
They were called the “Dueces Wild” line, and were made up of the mercurial center Peter Forsberg, sniper Simon Gagne, and the aforementioned Mike Knuble, their nickname due to their jersey numbers of 21, 12, and 22 respectively. Though the main event was the so-called “dynamic duo” of Gagne and Forsberg, Knuble was an Oscar worthy supporting actor. That season, he scored a career best 34 goals, and a career best 65 points. Though obviously I was wowed by the playmaking of Forsberg and the sharp shooting of Gagne, I was oddly entranced by Knuble’s dogged work-ethic, ability to win the puck all over the ice, and be a nuisance to opponents. It was safe to say that by the time the season was over, Knuble was one of my favorite players, and I was now embedded in my Flyers fandom.
Fast forward to 2007-08.
While most of us remember Joffrey Lupul’s overtime winner in game seven of the 2008 eastern conference quarterfinals against the Capitals, and yes I have incredibly vivid and fond memories of listening to the radio call of that goal, I can also clearly remember game four of that series. I was sitting on the couch of my childhood home, watching closely on the television as the buzzer sounded on the third period. The score was 3-3.
It was a close game. A power-play tally by Daniel Briere tied the score halfway through the third period, and that would be all the scoring in the last third. Overtime was looming.
The eventual winner was a broken play, as the puck found its way to Jeff Carter on the left-hand side of the ice behind the net after Scotty Upshall won it from the Capitals. Carter threw it out in front, and after a few good whacks at it, Mike Knuble was able to beat Cristobal Huet from in close to give the Flyers the victory.
I jumped out of my seat, throwing my arms in the air as the sleeves of my over-sized jersey flopped backwards. My brother and I shared a hug, and we were confident after taking a 3-1 series lead. However, most of all, it had been one of my favorite players, Mike Knuble, who had scored.
Of course, I was sad to see Knuble leave after the 2008-09 season, though at that point, I understood the rationale. I distinctly remember the season before he left to sign with the Washington Capitals. A lot of Flyers players lived near my town, and Knuble was always very active in the community. He would often attend fundraisers, and teach kids about hockey during free hours. One fateful night, my parents returned from a fundraiser that several Flyers players were either attending, or had donated raffle prizes to. Knuble just so happened to be there.
My parents returned home claiming they had nothing, however, by the time of my birthday, at my chair laid a wrapped rectangular gift. I opened it, and in a wooden picture frame was a print of Mike Knuble celebrating a goal, with the following written on it, “Happy Birthday Drew! - Mike Knuble #22”.
So, when he came back to the Flyers in 2012-13, though many admonished the decision, I was overjoyed. I was overjoyed to have a player who cared about the fans, especially young ones, and who was just a personal favorite of mine. And in the end, isn’t that what hockey is all about?
So thank you Mike Knuble, for turning me into a lifelong hockey fan, and for your contributions to this franchise.
And most of all, Happy Valentines’ Day.