But instead of sharing the ice with 20- and 30-something professionals, Knuble, the Capitals’ oldest player at 39, was surrounded by four dozen rambunctious mites, most of whom barely came up to his belt.
Capitals winger Mike Knuble ‘the typical rink rat dad’
“Over here, over here,” Knuble said in an authoritative tone, pointing at the orange cone one player had missed during a stickhandling drill.
Moments later, Knuble’s focus turned to one player in particular, a 7-year-old wearing a blue helmet with Capitals logos on the sides and No. 22 on the back.
“Cole!” Knuble shouted, shaking his head and smiling, “Not like thaaaat.”
Knuble spends the majority of his week at the Capitals’ practice facility, arriving as early as 8 a.m. on game days and 9 a.m. on practice days. But unlike Alex Ovechkin and the rest of his younger teammates, he’s also there during much of his free time, too. In addition to Cole, Knuble’s other son, 11-year-old Cam, plays for the elite Little Capitals, who, like the real Capitals, call the Ballston rink home.
“You think of the typical rink rat dad,” said Dan Jablonic, the director of youth hockey programs at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “Mike is that.”
From a distance, Knuble looked like any of the other 11 coaches on the ice for Cole’s practice. But there were constant reminders that he’s not just like them.
The gaggle of 7- and 8-year-old players monitored his every move as he laced up Cole’s skates in the dimly lit public locker room, which is across the ice from the Capitals’ plush digs. Parents snapped pictures from the stands. Everyone — coaches included — looked on in awe as Knuble blasted through the cones while demonstrating an agility drill. As the hour-long session came to an end, Knuble posed for a group photo.
“You can see how much the kids love it,” said Bill Wiggins, another mite coach whose son, Graham, plays with Cole. “We all appreciate him taking the time.”
Keeping a hectic schedule
Around 7 p.m., Knuble headed to the locker room to take off his skates and get Cole changed out of his pads. He was finally done after a pair of practices and two separate trips to Kettler from his family’s Alexandria home.
“I get home from practice at 1:30,” Knuble said, recounting a typical weekday afternoon during hockey season. “The kids are out of school at 3. We try to do some homework from 3 to 4. We’re in the car around 4:15 and we’re back here until 7, 7:30.
“Eating healthy,” he added, “takes some planning.”
Knuble’s schedule can get hectic. But thanks to Megan, his high-energy, ultra-organized wife, a dry-erase board and a carefully choreographed network of carpools, everyone ends up where they’re supposed to be, even when he’s on the road with the Capitals.
On the meticulously detailed white board, each family member’s daily schedule is color-coded in dry erase marker. Cole’s events are in blue. Cam’s are green. Anna, the Knubles’ soccer- and lacrosse-playing 10-year-old daughter, is pink. Mike and Megan’s schedules are in black. Times are noted. So are driving responsibilities and, in some cases, addresses for away games.