If one were to ask the average American grandmother to describe a hockey player she might say, “big, bruised and mean.” While big and bruised might be accurate, Abbotsford Heat centre and Flames prospect Corban Knight takes the thuggish stereotype and turns it on its head. With a strong connection to family, deep roots in Canada and a pure-and-simple love for the game, it’s tough to find a more passionate player and sincerely nice athlete than Knight.
Like so many professional players before him, Corban Knight, 23, learned to skate as soon as he was steady on his feet. Growing up in a small Canadian town, he first strapped on skates with his parents and five siblings at the outdoor rink (like any good Canadian boy). And while these early memories are fuzzy, he can vividly describe what it was like growing up with hockey in Canada.
“For me growing up every chance I could get I was playing, whether it be street hockey or on the pond or hand hockey in the house hallway. I was just always finding ways to play hockey. I think just the fact that you’re in Canada… from a young age you learn about the game. You grow up with it. Having a love for the game and learning a lot about it, too because you’re always playing.”
At 6’2”, 200 pounds, Knight sizes up nicely against the average NHL player who stands 6’1.3” and weighs 203.7 pounds. But measuring in at approximately 5’3” at age 14, Corban’s size worked against him as he was overlooked by Major Junior teams. After Midget Hockey, Corban played Junior A with the Okotoks Oilers—a team just down the road from his family in High River, Alberta and with connections to his dream school, the University of North Dakota.
“My mom always pressured education with us… The fact that I can go to college, get a degree and also play really good hockey appealed to me,” Corban explained. “I knew I wanted to go to college and specifically North Dakota. And (the Okotoks Oilers) had had a couple players go there before me, so it was almost like they had a pipeline, connections to the coaches. And I thought it would really help my chances with UND.”
Almost five years later, Corban still remembers the exact day he committed to UND—January 7, 2009. Over his four years in North Dakota, Knight left his mark as the 27th highest scorer in UND’s history with 146 points (52 goals, 94 assists) in 161 games, as a record-setting face-off winner and as a Hobey Baker Memorial Award Top 10 finalist. Not every player sees four years of college hockey through to the end—some follow the bright lights to a professional career early. But he doesn’t regret his decision to stay in Grand Forks.
“It could change in 20 years, but right now staying (at UND) for all four years has been the best decision of my life… Grand Forks and UND is such a special place that, for me, to leave early just didn’t make sense.”
Originally drafted by the Florida Panthers in the fifth round (135th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Knight assumed he would start his professional hockey career on the sandy beaches of The Sunshine State. But nothing is certain in the life of an athlete:
“My agent called me one day and said, ‘Calgary is really interested…’ So, I met with the management and I really had a good feeling about it. They all seemed like great guys and it just seemed like a good fit for me. So, the trade happened and it was pretty special that I got traded to basically my hometown.”
In June 2013, Corban was traded to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a fourth-round draft selection in the 2013 NHL Draft. The 4,644 km jump from Florida to Alberta was a happy one for Knight:
“Growing up, I was around the Flames. Everyone in my part of the country just bleeds for that team. It was a pretty surreal experience that I was getting traded to a team like that. Even with their farm team here in Abbotsford, just the fact that I was closer to home and in Canada is pretty special to me. My mom was pretty happy that’s for sure.”
Knight wrapped up a successful college hockey career in the spring of 2013, and trained hard all summer in preparation for the Flames’ training camps. After a successful run at development camp, Knight approached September eager to fight for a spot on Calgary’s roster. Just four days before NHL roster submissions were due, Corban was assigned to Calgary’s AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat.
“Obviously, when it didn’t work out and they sent me down here to Abbotsford, it was tough at first just because you’re so close to achieving one of your childhood dreams of playing in the NHL. But at the same time, you realize that this is a process and I just needed to come down here and work on my game… At first it’s disappointing, I tried to focus in on the positives and really focus on getting better down here.”
Nestled in the mountains about an hour east of Vancouver, Abbotsford is a scenic place to kick-off a professional hockey career. Knight has enjoyed a strong start to his first pro season, tallying 28 points (9 goals, 19 assists) in 39 games. Outside of the rink, he has also settled into a comfortable (and dare we say, ironic) living situation, sharing an apartment with two teammates, including current linemate and former rival, Ben Hanowski.
“Ben Hanowski played at St. Cloud State when I was at North Dakota. So for four years we were hated rivals and now we’re living together and playing on the same line.”
Reflecting on his career so far, Knight offered some advice to young players with professional aspirations.
“You’ve gotta work hard. There are so many ups and downs in hockey. For me, I got cut from a couple teams. At the time maybe you’re like, well, maybe my career is over and maybe I should pack it in and look at something else. That’s the great thing about hockey, there are always so many chances to play and to make something out of yourself… As long as you work hard, there’s a lot of potential to do pretty great things out there.”
And why did Corban Knight keep playing after being cut from teams and overlooked by scouts as a teenager because of his size? It’s simple.
“Just the love of the game. Hockey is such a huge part of my life. And I love it so much that it was something that I just didn’t want to quit. I knew that if I just kept working hard that good things would happen.”
Originally published at http://flamesnation.ca/2014/1/17/a-knight-in-padded-armur-a-look-at-abbotsfords-corban-knight#comments