After hearing he had been chosen to participate in the NHL All-Star Game later this month, Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk recalled the first time he was named to such a select group. "I played in the East Coast Hockey League All-Star Game when I was 20,'' he said. "It was in Idaho. I got torched in the skills competition.''
Dubnyk chuckled at that memory Wednesday, as he talked about his invitation to a slightly more glamorous event. He was among 11 players named to the Central Division roster for the All-Star Game in Nashville, Tenn., on Jan. 31. Under a new format this year, teams were chosen from each of the NHL's four divisions; they will play a three-on-three mini-tournament, with three 20-minute games.
The honor caps a memorable year for Dubnyk, who was acquired by the Wild last Jan. 14. Since then, he has gone 44-20-5 with a goals-against average of 2.01, a save percentage of .929 and nine shutouts. Over that period, Dubnyk leads the NHL in games played (71) and is ranked in the top three in victories, shutouts, GAA and save percentage among goalies who have played at least 35 games.
The All-Star Weekend will be held at Bridgestone Arena, where Dubnyk played two games for the Predators during a 2013-14 season that represented the nadir of his NHL career. Back then, he said, he never would have imagined this kind of return.
"Not to say you don't believe in yourself, but the things that need to fall in place for the last year to happen, that's why it's fun to talk about,'' said Dubnyk, who is 17-11-3 this season and tied for third in the NHL with four shutouts. "It's pretty incredible.
"The last 365 days have been pretty crazy. It's another thing to add to that story.''
Though the honor had not fully sunk in yet, Dubnyk already was arranging for his family to attend and relishing the validation that comes with it.
After saving the Wild's season last spring, Dubnyk said he knew there would be doubts about his ability to replicate that success — a skepticism that made him feel some pressure, even though he was confident in his play. He has hit his stride over the past month, compiling a 1.83 GAA and .940 save percentage since Dec. 1.
The Central Division will play the Pacific Division in one semifinal of the All-Star tournament, with the victor playing the winner of the other semifinal between the Metropolitan and Atlantic divisions. The three-on-three format won't make things any easier for the goaltenders.
Dubnyk said he always has "cringed'' while watching goalies get peppered in the game, but he doesn't expect that will make it any less fun.
"You just go and enjoy yourself and don't worry about how many saves you make,'' he said. "I'm sure it's going to be a good time, something to cherish and remember. I'm really looking forward to it.''