Good thing Devan Dubnyk is a goalie, because his fighting career would be over. The Wild veteran can’t make a fist with his right hand.
“It’s more annoying for day-to-day life activities,” Dubnyk, showing off an index finger that won’t bend more than halfway, said with a big laugh. “I don’t have much grip strength in that hand. My wife asks me to open a jar, and I’ll be like, ‘Give me a minute,’ as I wrap the jar inside my armpit.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do chin-ups again — not that I ever was able to do chin-ups in the first place.”
Of course, that all sometimes has its benefits.
“Diaper changes,” wife Jenn, shaking her head, said. “This summer, whenever [youngest son] Parker needed a diaper change, Devan couldn’t. But it didn’t seem to affect his golf swing.”
In the most poorly-timed incident of last April’s playoffs, the top of Dubnyk’s knuckle on that index finger chipped off diagonally after Jason Pominville ripped a low blocker-side shot at the morning skate before Game 1 against the Dallas Stars.
In a fluky manner, the puck ramped up Dubnyk’s paddle and nailed him underneath the blocker.
“It was weird because every time we took a low blocker shot, he’d be waving his blocker [in pain]. We were all wondering, ‘What the heck was wrong with him, what’s he doing?’ We just figured goalies are crazy,” Pominville said. “Once he finally told us he was playing with his finger broken, we all started trying to shoot away from it. Before that, we had no idea.
If it wasn’t the playoffs, Dubnyk probably would have had surgery to insert a pin. He opted against surgery after the season, and the byproduct is he no longer can bend a finger that’s still oddly swollen.
The malady has caused him to change the way he holds his stick. He wears a pad over it for protection, although the occasional shots make him wince.
“It was unbelievable in that series how many times I got hit on that finger, probably four or five times with shots or wraparounds,” Dubnyk said.
He has learned to live with the issue, and it hasn’t affected his play. He leads the NHL in goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts. Tuesday, he was named the NHL’s Third Star for the month of December.
Plus, as you can tell, it allows for the convenient excuse if his wife wants something done around the house.
Other than that, Jenn has no complaints, and couldn’t be prouder of her husband.
Bottom to top
Dubnyk’s story of overcoming adversity is well known.
Three seasons ago, he was traded from Edmonton to Nashville to Montreal, where he was buried in the minors and finally was allowed to return home to his wife and infant son, Nate.
Dubnyk signed a one-year deal with Arizona, got his career back on track, and was traded to a Wild team desperate for a lifeline in goal. He saved the Wild’s season and was awarded a six-year, $26 million contract for being a Masterton Trophy winner and Vezina Trophy finalist.
It’s coming up on two years since Dubnyk, now 30, was dealt to Minnesota, and where he was then and where he is now, “it doesn’t even seem like it happened,” Jenn said. “We’ve seen friends come and go in this league [with struggles]. We’re very lucky.
“There was never a doubt in Devan’s mind what he was capable of, and he’s the first one to take responsibility for what happened to him. He took it in his own hands and kept playing and waited for his opportunity.
“He was devastated in Montreal, but he’s such a positive person. He always has such a positive outlook, and he never let it end his career.”
Jenn and Devan met when they were 19. It was Dubnyk’s last year in Kamloops of the Western Hockey League and Jenn’s first year in college.
Jenn is from Calgary, and she figured she never would see Devan again. But he invited her to Davos, Switzerland, to attend the Spengler Cup with him, and the rest is history. When he was in the minors, she’d fly back and forth to visit him in Stockton, Calif., and Springfield, Mass.
Now, they have two children — Nate, 3, and Parker, 1.
“They are his priority,” Jenn said. “When he gets home, it’s all about the boys. I joke that he’s my third child sometimes because he’s just playing with them all the time. It’s bedtime, and I’m just hearing so much noise. I’m like, ‘OK, wrap it up.’ ”
His affection for his kids was obvious after the Wild’s outdoor practice in Edina on Monday. Dubnyk walked off the ice in full gear, and Nate sprinted up to him and gave him a huge embrace that was timed perfectly as Jenn finished tying Nate’s tiny skates.
During Dubnyk’s press scrum, Nate suddenly emerged and said, “Can I talk in the microphone?”
“My question is,” Nate said, “is … is … is … I hug, Daddy.”
“He’s pretty sharp,” Dubnyk said. “He’ll keep you on your toes and definitely ask a lot of questions.”
Dubnyk then carried Nate out to the Braemar Arena’s Backyard rink. Nate shot pucks on Dubnyk, wearing jeans, as Ryan Suter’s and Jared Spurgeon’s boys skated on the other side of the ice.
Jenn can’t believe how far Devan has come since rock bottom three years ago. After his stellar 3 ½-month first season with the Wild, Dubnyk’s entire family celebrated with him in Las Vegas. Last January, all of them, including newborn Parker, went to Nashville to celebrate Dubnyk’s first All-Star Game invitation.
“He enjoyed every moment,” Jenn said.
It was a far cry from Jenn’s initial reaction when her husband was traded from the Coyotes to the Wild.
“I was so upset,” Jenn said. “We had been traded so much, we had Nate and we were finally in a groove in Arizona. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It was the last thing we were expecting. He was doing well there, so it was like, ‘How is this happening again? Why don’t they want to keep you?’
“I just couldn’t believe we had another move ahead of us. But we love it here. It’s so similar to Canada. The ‘Minnesota Nice,’ it’s so true. We find everybody here so nice and it’s such a great place to raise kids, which is important to us.
“The programs and activities they have here, plus the hockey and the team and the way the fans treat him, it’s all so perfect.”