Sunday, March 6, 2016

Devan Dubnyk had to wait a long time for the Wild

By Larry Wigge

Devan Dubnyk was spending some quality time with his mother, Barb, when his wife reached him by phone in his car after practice last January.

"Jennifer was frantic," Devan recalled his wife's voice. "Well, almost ... "

She said that Don Maloney, the general manager of the Phoenix Coyotes had left him several phone messages. He was desperate to reach you.

When you want to get away from phone calls and messages, Dubnyk had a button that you push that puts them on hold. But ... when it happens to be Maloney's calls.

Dubnyk, who left practice 20 minutes earlier ... and now he wanted to spend some time with his mother, who was visiting from Alberta to see Devan's thriving young family -- Jennifer and Nathaniel, with another young one on the way.

A little lunch. You know ...

But he had to return Maloney's call.

"He told me that he and the Minnesota Wild had worked out a deal for me for a third-round pick," he remembered.

Quiet. He traded me to where.

"I felt numb for a moment," he said. "Then, I looked at my mom.

"I remembered how she went through breast cancer 13 years ago when I was 15  ... and how it shaped me going forward. It's made me so much more of a stronger person."

The Regina, Saskatchewan, native, didn't say on that January 10, 2015 afternoon was how much of a difference he would make to the Minnesota Wild roster. He would make big time effect on the Wild right from the start.

After flying from Arizona, Dubnyk beat the Buffalo Sabres that night, 7-0. Then, he promptly played 38 straight games.

Dubnyk loved the workload, even it it seemed onerous.

"If you'd asked me before then, I'd have said it's insane," he recalled. "After 12 or 13 games in a row, I was thinking 'Whoa, this is getting long,' but once it was at 24 or 25 games, I was on autopilot. I enjoyed it. Does it make sense to do that now?"

He had a 1.78 goals-against average and .936 save percentage, finished 27-9-2 with five shutouts, was fourth in voting for the Hart Trophy (for NHL MVP) and got the Wild to the playoffs, helping them get to the second round.

Then he got a six-year, $26-million contract.

Little did he know then about the rest of the journey.

"It's a good story," Dubnyk says. "It's fun to think back on it. We were 12 points out of a playoff spot at the time.

"It just seems so long ago. It's such a different mindset and kind of place in my life to where we are now with this group here and just being on this team and in this city. It's crazy the difference that it is. But it's fun to look back on it."

Said Wild captain Zach Parise, "That's a position that's always magnified. The way that position works, if you have an off night it can unfortunately cost you the game easily. Whereas if you're a forward and you have an off night, you can blend in and do other things ... but not as a goalie."

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville used the comparison to Corey Crawford in talking about Dubnyk.

"That's the easiest decision you have to make," he said. "That's one of those where, hey, he's got the net, we're going, we have to win every game. That was kind of the mode we were in and I’m sure that was mindset. As a coach, it's a no-brainer."

The Wild went to the bargain basement ... and came out with a answer in goal.

The 29-year-old finally found a home -- after stays in the last 12 months in Edmonton, Nashville, Montreal, Arizona and Minnesota.

Even a stay at Hamilton of the American Hockey League.

"Every day in Hamilton, pretty much," Dubnyk said. "Every day I woke up in the Staybridge Suites in Hamilton and looked out at the bikers at Tim Hortons."

Now there's a brief stay that wasn't much fun.

Then, after months of no job offers, Arizona called. He was to be Mike Smith's backup, with the chance to work with goaltender coach Sean Burke.

In Arizona, Dubnyk, the 6-5, 210-pound goaltender, worked with Sean Burke -- himself a pretty big netminder. Burke changed some of Dubnyk's techniques and transformed him.

"It would've surprised me if he would've gone to the Wild and struggled," Burke said. "I believed he was at a stage where if he was just given an opportunity to play consistently, he would be a good performer."

Dubnyk likened the stay with Burke to a opportunity ...

"Not overstated at all. It's not that he took me and morphed me into a different person. I think just at the time I was in my career, I just always wanted a chance to work with him. It was a bit of a round-about way to get there," Dubnyk recalled. "But, at that time, he just puts confidence in you. He brought me in there and trusted me as a goalie. He put all his trust in me that I could go out there and stop the puck.

"We were just gonna work on some tweaks. He's a guy who you know will have your back, you know he'll go to bat for you at all times. So you can just go out there and play. That trickles through the coaches and management when you have a guy who believes in you that much. He just took a few things that he saw in my game that he wanted to sharpen up and really work on that and being patient on my skates. He was one of the best when he played at being patient and using that size and not going down early and really being on his two skates all the time. If I can try to take a little of that from him, it certainly helped me a lot."

Said former Edmonton teammate Jordan Eberle, "He's such a great guy, and it seems like every night you’re watching the highlights, he's getting a shutout or a win. You want to see that guy have success."

"It's hard to describe the feeling," Barry Dubnyk said. "I see it in him. It's what I would call 'comfort zone.' "

Dubnyk was a former first-round draft choice, 14th pick, by Edmonton in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

"I was always of that mindset. It's scary. It does get to a point where you start to wonder. Is there gonna be a spot for me?" he said. "You don't wonder if you're capable of having a spot, but it's is there gonna be one available? It's scary when you see that it all can be taken away from you.

"I played five years in the league and struggled for the first five. You wonder if there's gonna be a spot for you. So going into this year when I did get that job with Arizona and the confidence they put in me, my approach this year was to just enjoy it, enjoy every minute. Enjoy every day I go to the rink. Don't take anything for granted and then I get the call from Minnesota.

"So whether it was once a week or once a month, I was just gonna try to enjoy that 60 minutes. And really take it in and enjoy it and having that approach was helping my game was helping me go out there and relax and keep the pressure off and just really wrap myself up in those single games and when you can do that, the wins feel that much better, too. I've felt really good about things coming here."

Looking back, Devan Dubnyk remembers the good and bad of it ... all of it.

"It has felt like a lot longer than a calendar year," he said. "It has felt like 10 years, probably. Last year probably took a few years off my life."

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