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Saturday, May 25, 2024
The Observer

Cole Knuble talks NHL Draft, Michigan series

Pick up a Notre Dame hockey line chart, and you’ll see freshman forward Cole Knuble’s name with an NHL logo next to it. He’s more than earned the distinction, but the road to get there hasn’t always been easy.

The latest step in Knuble’s hockey journey has landed him at Notre Dame, where he’s an important member of the Irish’s eight-player freshman class.

“For me, the biggest thing when I was getting recruited [was] what school is gonna set me up for the most success after college, and a lot of that was with hockey,” Knuble said. "As a player, I thought this was the best place for me to develop [to] play in the NHL … but then also in just all aspects of life. I think this place will obviously make me a better person too.”

Development for the NHL has long been the goal for Knuble. The Grand Rapids, Michigan, native committed to Notre Dame in January of 2022. That spring, he became eligible for the NHL Draft.

But no NHL team selected him.

Despite putting up 20 goals and 49 points in his first season of junior hockey with the Fargo Force, Knuble did not hear his name called over the course of the seven rounds.

“I had a really good first year in the USHL,” Knuble said. “And I was disappointed, obviously, but I really took it personally. I guess all I [could] do from there is work and try to try to prove everyone wrong. So that’s what I did.”

Knuble returned to Fargo last year with a chip on his shoulder. Building upon a successful first year with the team, he raised his goal total from 20 to 30. He scored 66 points, placing him among the USHL’s top-10 scorers. As an assistant captain, he helped the Force to the Clark Cup Final and led the team in scoring.

“I think handling adversities is a strength of mine,” he said.

The hockey world took notice. After his stellar second season in Fargo, Knuble was presented the Curt Hammer Award by the USHL, given to the player who demonstrates outstanding performance, leadership, pride and determination. USA Hockey, the sport’s national governing body, also recognized Knuble by naming him the Dave Tyler Junior Player of the Year. Several current NHL players are former recipients, including Jack Hughes, Kyle Connor and Joe Pavelski, among others.

“I always felt growing up I was overlooked, so finally it felt like I was being seen in the hockey world,” Knuble said. “But I think it’s just, you always want the next thing, so you can’t get satisfied.”

Knuble’s biggest reward at the end of last season, though, was the one that motivated him in the first place — the NHL Draft. On June 29, the Philadelphia Flyers drafted Knuble in the fourth round. His hard work had paid off. 

“Not getting drafted obviously upset me at first, and I was really mad,” he said. “But now I’m really thankful for it, because I think it pushed me. It’s always a good reminder that you can prove people wrong, and it’s kind of fun.”

Knuble’s start to his freshman season at Notre Dame hasn’t necessarily been easy, either. Despite his strong play at center, he only has two points to show for it. Nonetheless, the experience of handling adversity last season has proven invaluable for him.

“You learn about yourself, and I think you can learn that you can get through stuff,” Knuble said. “I think it’s true that there’s lessons in everything.”

After a seven-game unbeaten streak, Knuble’s Irish team now has some adversity of its own to face. Last Friday, the No. 1 Boston College Eagles beat Notre Dame 6-1 at Compton Family Ice Arena. The Irish have now lost two straight games for the first time all season. This weekend represents a chance to rebound, though, as No. 13 Michigan will be in town for a pair of rivalry games. 

“That’s the good part about Notre Dame and playing in the Big Ten, is that next weekend is always going to be a chance to get right back on it,” Knuble said.

For Knuble, the chance to take on the Wolverines for the first time is an extra special one. His father, 16-year NHL veteran Mike Knuble, is a Michigan alumnus. Mike played hockey for the Wolverines for four seasons between 1991 and 1995. Old allegiances die hard, especially in the case of the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry. But it’s probably a safe bet that Mike will be rooting for his son this weekend.

“I think he’s cheering for Notre Dame,” Cole said of his father. “I don’t know, actually, I haven’t asked him. But I saw him with a Notre Dame shirt on the other day, so he might be. He won’t be wearing a jersey, so you might not be able to tell, but I’m pretty sure he’s cheering for us.”

Regardless, Cole will relish the opportunity to show out against Mike’s alma mater.

“We haven’t talked about playing Michigan, but it will be bragging rights for sure going home at Christmas,” Cole said. 

Not that he needs extra motivation. This weekend’s series may just be the most consequential one of the season so far for both Michigan and Notre Dame. Rivalry aside, the two teams are jockeying for early position in the Big Ten standings. Notre Dame is currently tied for second place in the conference, and Michigan is tied for fifth. But just four points separate the two teams.

“That’s what you want. I think that’s one of the best parts about Notre Dame,” Knuble said. “That's why you come to a place like this. You want to play in those games where it feels like it matters.”

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