PHILADELPHIA — Every season, the NHL presents the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy to a player in the league who best shows perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the sport of hockey.
In recent seasons, it has become an honor bestowed on players who have either come back from a serious injury or have overcome an illness.
This season, the NHL has decided to shed a bit more light on this prestigious, but often overlooked honor, by announcing each of the 30 nominees in groups of five per day to highlight those players and their accomplishments. The recipient will also receive his award at the annual League awards ceremony in June rather than just being announced during the playoffs.
With all the attention, the hope is the criteria outlined for the award will be used when naming a winner. If that’s the case, then the Flyers’ nominee should have a real shot at winning the award.
The Philadelphia chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has selected Mike Knuble as this season’s nominee.
Knuble will be announced along with the nominees from the other Atlantic Division clubs today.
Knuble, 36, is the elder statesman of the Flyers, yet doesn’t let his age diminish his skills. In an era where the sport is dominated by the younger superstars, Knuble still plugs along as an every situation player, skating on the Flyers top line, top power play unit and is one of six forwards who regularly kills penalties.
Entering play Sunday, he was the leading goal scorer in the NHL among the 35-and-over crowd with 26 goals, and among players his age and older, he ranked fourth in points.
He played in his 800th game in the NHL recently, which he said is 799 more than he ever thought he’d play. He has a goal of reaching 1,000 games.
“I don’t know if the younger players are getting better or you’re getting worse,” Knuble said of the game of hockey today. “But, I think you’re as young as you feel. If you slip, if you say to yourself that you don’t feel as good or you’re injured, those might accelerate and lead to your downfall. I didn’t play a lot when I was younger, so maybe it’s the (lack of) mileage. But I still feel good.”
Good enough to be a regular contributor at an advanced age. But it’s more than that.
When it comes to sportsmanship, Knuble is as well-respected on the ice as off it. He is a player who plays hard between whistles and hardly ever gets mixed up in extracurricular activities. As a result, his lifetime 486 penalty minutes are pretty miniscule compared to his 810 games.
It’s his dedication to his craft that is most admirable, both on and off the ice. He impresses his younger mates with his offseason and daily workout regimen, and then has the clout to convince his teammates to help out in several of the charities with which he is involved.
He created the Mike Knuble Family Foundation to raise money for the Van Andel Institute (an independent research organization focusing on cancer, Parkinson and cardio-vascular disease research) as well as Flyers’ charities, Charlie’s Fight (a cystic fibrosis fundraiser) and the Comcast-Spectacor Foundation.
He operates two charity golf tournaments, one in Philadelphia and one in Grand Rapids, Mich., and he has also served as a spokesman for breast cancer awareness.
If that’s not enough, this past Christmas he took up a collection from his teammates and went shopping at Target to buy coats, clothes and toys for underprivileged children.
“When you come through the league, in the position we’re in, we’re probably looked at a little bit differently than a lot of people,” Knuble said. “And if you understand that, as you get older and realize that you have some resources that you can use to help other people out, help your community out and stuff like that — it takes a little bit of extra work and that turns a lot of guys off.
“It takes some work and you need some good people around you. You get all the credit, but there are always good people behind you. But it’s been fun … You give back to the community and it’s fun to do. It takes work and some of the guys don’t want the distraction, but I think as you get older, you realize the position you’re in.”
While Knuble has a better case to be on the list than a few others, it's an absolute Travesty that he was nominated and not Gagné. Anyways, Richard Zednik will win it (if he's nominated). If not him, then Steve Sullivan.