What a difference a season makes. Last fall, defenseman Mike Knight was about to turn pro in the UHL when there didn’t seem to be enough room on his junior team for him to stay for his overage year. Space opened up and he returned to have a breakout year with his OHL Plymouth Whalers with 48 points in 64 games, more than double his offensively output the year before.
When the Whalers were knocked out of the OHL playoffs this spring, the 6’1 210-pound 20-year-old was among four rookies out of the CHL signed by the ECHL Greenville Grrrowl, who has just lost several players to either the AHL or their national teams for the World Championships.
These rookies, who include Brian Lee and David Herring of the Erie Otters and Dylan Stanley of the Tri-City Americans, have propelled the eighth-seeded Grrrowl to an improbable first round defeat of the league’s top team in the regular season, the Pensacola Ice Pilots, in the Kelly Cup playoffs.
Dubbed the ‘Cardiac Kids’, the Stanley, Herring, Lee and Knight make up four of the team’s top five scorers in the playoffs, with a combined 21 points in four games. Knight has five assists, playing a big role on Greenville’s power play. He had three points in three games in regular season play.
Hockey’s Future interrupted Knight’s celebration following the Grrrowl’s 4-0 clincher over Pensacola on Tuesday night to talk about his season.
HF: First, can you talk about the game and the series?
MK: Coming into this, we just kind of came together as a team. This is one of the tightest teams I’ve been on in a while. The team I used to play on, the Plymouth Whalers, we got swept first round so this is the greatest second chance I’ve ever had, going hard again trying to get to the finals. We pulled together, we won two games in overtime. We didn’t expect much, we were the underdogs and we had nothing to lose so we just played like that, with that attitude. We got two in Pensacola and we lost a heartbreaker on Saturday, an OT loss, but we just played team defense today and listened to some good stuff before the game. We have a good coach who pumps us up. Again it starts from the dressing room, great bunch of guys. We came together as a team and we won – total team win.
HF: Going back to the beginning of the year, you weren’t sure you were going back to Plymouth and had signed a contract to play pro (in the UHL). Can you talk about that period and what led to you going back to Plymouth?
MK: Well there were a couple defensemen who were high on their priority list, I wasn’t sure if they were coming back. I kind of wanted to keep my options open. I got lucky, I talked to the coach a couple times, Mike Vellucci in Plymouth, and I got a lot more options going back to Plymouth. It was a smart decision and nothing against the United League, but playing an overage year, I actually had my best year in juniors. I was pretty happy I came back.
HF: It looks like that extra year of junior did you a world of good. Did you feel like a completely different player?
MK: Yeah, I needed that opportunity to be the best defenseman on the team. I got the opportunity and I used it, definitely.
HF: What was it that made the difference do you think?
MK: I think it was a lot of things actually. I worked really hard this summer, put on a lot of weight. I got bigger and stronger and just wanted to have a mindset of ‘be consistent’. The past three years, like my draft year, I was inconsistent. I learned from my mistakes. I wanted to have a real consistent year, work hard every game and I did that. It came out really good.
HF: How exactly did you end up in Greenville when you season was over?
MK: When we got knocked out, I think it was a Thursday. I got a few letters in the mail from East Coast teams, but that was for the summer or whatever. On Monday maybe, my coach in Plymouth said that Greenville was calling. I think there was a couple other teams calling my agent. But I talked to [assistant GM and coach Ryan] Stewart and he said a lot of good things. He said I’d play on the power play, get a great opportunity, and he wasn’t lying and I respect that.
HF: And they picked up other rookies too, some of whom you had just been playing against.
MK: Yeah, I guess OHL players, there’s just like a hidden chemistry or something. Definitely we hang out all the time off the ice too, Herring and Lee. Me and Lee play really good together. I don’t know, we’re just contributing really well on the power play and pulling together. I played against both of them for four years, they’re good players.
HF: Did you surprise even yourself with how well you’ve done offensively?
MK: I wasn’t even thinking about points really, I was just wanted to keep it simple on the blue line. Chip it in, chip it out sort of thing. The first game I shocked myself, I’m not going to lie (smiles), with the tying goal. I was pretty happy. I’m just building off that right now, trying to take advantage of my opportunity here. You can’t take your highs too high or your lows too low. That’s my mindset.
HF: How would you describe your game, would you call yourself an offensive defenseman or more of a two-way guy?
MK: On the power play it’s mostly offense, but I try and keep it simple defensively because that’s what defensemen are. I’m not really offensively like that, five on five I just kind of jump in the play, hopefully make an odd man rush or something like that. But for the most part I stay back and take my opportunities.
HF: How much is fighting an element of your game?
MK: Well, in the OHL, my rookie year I’d say I fought like five or six times. My second year, not even ten times. My third year like twice, last year twice. But if someone wants to go, I guess I’ll go (laughs).
HF: What do you think you need to improve on for next year?
MK: Well, there’s always room for improvement. I’d say the little things, like getting guys’ sticks in front of the net, not letting guys get second shots, and just positioning. That’s huge. That’s what I notice a lot at this level. Just the little things and being consistent.
HF: What are you going to do this summer to train?
MK: Yeah, I usually have a (different) workout buddy, but my parents just moved to Whitby, it’s like 40 minutes north of Toronto, so me and Ryan Ramsay, he plays for Worcester in the A, we’re probably going to work out this summer. Work real hard, on and off the ice. Stay on the ice once a week at least.
HF: Are you interested in coming back to the Grrrowl next year if you don’t get a higher deal?
MK: Yeah, there’s definitely a really good option. It’s going to be an open mind for the summer, definitely.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.