LOS ANGELES – Near the end of the 2013-14 season, Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk struggled with where he was – living out of a suitcase at the Staybridge Suites in Hamilton, Ontario.
Sure, it was a fine place for him to rest from the day-in-day-out grind of his hockey season, but he had bigger and grander hopes for himself.
“Probably just being in Hamilton I think was the toughest time for me (that season), away from my family and my son and staying in a small hotel room across from the rink for two months was tough,” Dubnyk said. “I don’t wish it upon anybody to have to be in the Staybridge Suites in Hamilton when they have a kid at home … it’s a beautiful hotel but not where I wanted to be.”
The 30-year-old Dubnyk has come a long way since that season where he played for the Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators and then with the Montreal Canadiens’ AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldog – struggling with all three. With Edmonton he held a 3.36 goal-against average and .894 save percentage in 32 games played. In Nashville he started two games, allowed nine goals and quickly found himself behind Carter Hutton on the depth chart. With Hamilton, he played eight games, held a 3.33 goal-against average and .893 save percentage.
Since then he has become a two-time All-Star (2016 and 2017) and was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2015. This season he has been the most important player on the Western Conference’s top team, posting a 1.88 goal-against average and .936 save percentage.
“He just makes the save,” Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. “He makes the save most of the time when you need one. And I think that’s the best compliment you can have as a goalie. He’s simple and he makes the save.”
Dubnyk’s story is one of the NHL’s best recent comeback tales. After the 2013-14 season – where he finished a two-year, $7 million contract – he signed with the Arizona Coyotes in for 2014-15 at $800,00, hoping that he could find some chemistry with goaltending coach Sean Burke.
The 6-foot-6 Dubnyk showed flashes with the Coyotes, posting a 2.72 goal-against average and .916 save percentage. He was then traded to the Wild where his game took off with a 1.78 goal-against average and .936 save percentage in 39 games played. Dubnyk posted a 27-9-2 record in helping guide the Wild to the playoffs. He finished in third in Vezina Trophy voting, fourth in Hart Trophy voting. He was awarded the Masterton Trophy.
Minnesota then lavished the netminder with a six-year, $26 million contract.
Last season, Dubnyk experienced a bit of a drop-off, as the rest of the team also struggled. He had a 2.33 goal-against average and .918 save percentage as the Wild made the playoffs but lost in the first-round. Coach Mike Yeo was also fired that season.
This season, Dubnyk figured out a way to get back to his elite level in 2014-15, and do so consistently. One of Dubnyk’s hallmarks since that year is his ability to find ways to consistently improve to stay at his current state and not regress to what he was in 2013-14 or during 171 games with the Oilers where he held a 2.88 goal-against average and .910 save percentage.
“Every goalie in the league I think is striving to be the best they possibly can,” Dubnyk said. “That’s how we get to where we are, but I like watching other goalies. I like to pick up on other things that they do – things I might be able to incorporate in my game. I’m aware there’s a lot of things other goalies do that I could not incorporate into my game because I don’t have the flexibility that some guys do, but I’m always looking for things and trying things out and you want to continue to get better right up until you’re done putting the skates on.”
There’s a thought that the Wild’s improved play under new coach Bruce Boudreau has helped Dubnyk. While goaltending is often a reflection of team success this may not be the case this season according to Suter.
“He’s playing well. I don’t think any difference (with the system). I’m trying to think … No,” Suter said. “I think everything, the way we play, the way we defend. Everyone comes back and plays hard. We don’t have the flashy guys, and for him to be there and stop everything for us. It’s a perfect fit.”
Suter pointed out that Dubnyk’s success goes beyond his ability to just stop pucks. His communication also helps his team understand how to better play in front of him.
“One good thing about him that most goalies don’t have is between whistles and TV timeouts he comes over and you can talk to him,” Suter said. “Just little things where most goalies you don’t talk to.”
For Dubnyk, 2013-14 doesn’t drive him as much as it did in the past. He’s further removed from that point and much more established as a star goaltender. But it’s part of his story and something that will always show how far he has come and he’s constantly reminded of this.
“I tell the story almost every day,” Dubnyk said. “Someone asks me about it every day, so it’s good. It’s not as much – I try not to think hard about that time. It wasn’t a fun time but I had to go through it to be able to do what I’m doing now and it’s all part of life and my career and it’s a positive story, so it’s something I don’t mind talking about.”
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