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May 24, 1995 - Image 16

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 1995-05-24

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16 -The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, May 24, 1995

B ue

4

-1

JONATHAN LURIE/Daily
By Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Daily Sports Editor
ETROIT - Mike Knuble
collapses into a folding
chair in the bowels of Joe Louis
Arena, tears off his brand new red
gloves and beams. He doesn't have ae
locker yet, or a number, and likely
won't even play this season. But as he
sits there, sweating and smiling,
wearing the winged wheel, he knows he's made it.
Knuble is with the big boys now.
Last week, the former Michigan forward joined his new team -
the Detroit Red Wings - less than two months after leading the
Wolverines to college hockey's final four. The Red Wings are his
fourth team in eight weeks, and Knuble could hardly have it any
better.
In the time most college seniors use to celebrate their graduation,
Knuble has played for the NCAA Championship with Michigan, the
Calder Cup (the American Hockey League's championship trophy)
with the Adirondack Red Wings and the World Junior
Championship with Team USA in Stockholm, Sweden.
Now, his team is playing for the most coveted prize in all of
hockey.
The Stanley Cup.
"It's a fast life I guess," Knuble says. "This has all been just a
great experience. I'm just working hard and showing what I can do.
I'm along for the ride, but it's a fun one."
The ride is supposed to be fun. The Red Wings planned it that
way. Detroit's Assistant General Manager Ken Holland says that the
Wings want Knuble to feel comfortable in his new surroundings,
especially in the playoff pressure cooker. The Wings are currently in
the midst of a second-round series with San Jose, and Detroit wants
Knuble to see it all. Adjusting to the pro game is a tough task, and for
Knuble to do his best in training camp this fall, he needs to taste the
demands of the big time.
Barring injuries to Detroit's right wings, Knuble's chances of
playing in a playoff game are slim to none. Yet, the experience of
simply practicing with the best will do wonders for his skills and his
confidence.
The NHL game is a new frontier for young players, especially
former collegians. It's fast. It's hard. It's grueling. It is the best
hockey on the planet, literally leagues away from the CCHA.
"In the NHL, you play a game every 2.2 days," Holland says.
"For eight months, you're playing a game every other day. In
college, you get five days off. You play two. Five days off. You play
two. It makes it a difficult transition for guys like Mike."
A harder one, in fact, than most others face. Most NHL players
come out of juniors, play in the minors and then make the jump to
the top. The junior and minor leagues play rigorous schedules,
designed to get their troops to the next level.
Junior teams can play as many as 110 games - more than most
pro teams play - giving their players a feel for war.
College hockey, however, has concentrated more on battles. It
had traditionally been a sanctuary for those players who were good,
but not quite good enough. That has changed. Since American
hockey got a lift from the 1980 Olympic "Miracle on Ice," colleges
.ave gotten better, and the level of play has skyrocketed.
"Years ago, when I played juniors, very few guys who played

4

: e Knuble jump,
o i
Detroit Red Wi-
college hockey made it to the pros," Red Wings veteran defenseman
Mark Howe says. "They didn't even look at them. If you wanted to
play professional hockey you had to play juniors.
"When the U.S. beat the Soviets (in 1980), people started to
reevaluate who they were looking at and good players started going
to college."
Players like Knuble, for instance. He was Detroit's fourth-round
pick - the 76th player taken overall - in the 1991 NHL Draft and
went to Michigan to hone his skills.
He did not disappoint. Knuble racked up accolade after accolade
during his college career and helped the Wolverines to the final four
three times.
He led the team in goals and finished second in scoring his senior
year, netting 38 goals and 22 assists for 60 points. He is tied for fifth
on the Wolverines' all-time list in goals scored with 103. He was
also All-CCHA first team and Most Outstanding Player at the
NCAA West Regional in Madison, among other things.
Yet, his college career ended in heartbreak. He had an
outstanding playoff, averaging 2.5 goals per game. He recorded a hat

trick in each of Michigan's first-round
CCHA playoff victories over Ohio
State and then scored a seemingly
impossible game-tying goal against
Lake Superior State with just 0.4
seconds on the clock.
Then, he scored two goals against
Wisconsin in the West Regional,
including the game winner, leading th
Wolverines into a final four match-u
with Maine. But he wasn't even on the ice when his college caree
came to an exhausted close.
Knuble had netted a goal to put Michigan into overtime against
the Black Bears. But in the third overtime, Maine's Dan
Shermerhom scored just 28 seconds into the period. Knuble was on
the bench. He was done as a Wolverine.
Yet, he had much hockey to play. From there he was on to
Adirondack, Stockholm and Detroit. He didn't even have time to
mourn.
"It's like when somebody dies, if you keep busy and you don't
really sit down and think about it," Knuble says. "I've been busy
playing other hockey. So, I've sort of put that behind me and now@
have to move on."
That level-headedness, when coupled with his talent and amiabl<
personality, is what the Red Wings feel will propel him over the
hurdles of adjusting to the pro game. The players are nothing less
than impressed with him.
"He looks good ... really good," Red Wings captain Steve
Yzerman says. "He's a big guy, a strong skater, and he's got a good
shot. I think he's doing really well."
Howe was as happy with Knuble's persona as his playing.
"He's a nice kid, and I think that's important," Howe says.
"Some guys come in here with big heads and act cocky and the 0
players don't like that. Mike hasn't done that. He's come in and
worked hard and that will get him far."
Holland hopes so. He sees Knuble as a potential impact player
for Detroit and is keeping a close eye on him as he acclimates
himself to the team. Knuble's skills, Holland says, are up to the task,
and if he continues to improve, he may find himself in Detroit after
the exhibition season ends in September.
"If all goes well, with a couple of years of experience, there is no
reason why he can't do what he did in college in the NHL," Holland
says. "If he comes in and plays well this fall, he'll earn a spot. If he
comes in and plays OK, he'll play with Adirondack (Detroit's fare
club). Time will tell."
In the meantime, Knuble says he will just try to show the Wings'
brass that he'll be a force next season. But he still has a bit of the
collegian in him. Knuble is still trying to finish his school work fror
winter term and lives in Ann Arbor.
In fact, last Wednesday, he had a test in developmental
psychology in the morning. Afterwards, he had to drive down M-14
across I-275, up I-696, then down the Lodge Freeway, just to get to
his tough, two-hour practice in the afternoon.
He doesn't mind the commute, however. The Red Wings are
favored to win the Stanley Cup and he will be there, skating, sweatin
listening, learning, growing and loving every minute. It was hard to to
off thenmaize and blue for the last time, but as Knuble looks down at his
new red and white gear, he can't help but smile.
Mike Knuble has hit the big time.

BEN ERIKSSON/Swedish Amercan News
Mike Knuble played for Team USA in Stockholm, Sweden
last month at the World Junior Championships.

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