GLENDALE, ARIZ. – Devan Dubnyk grabbed the Wild’s schedule the other day just to remind himself where the team was heading on this road trip — beyond the one place he surely knew.
The veteran goaltender has been looking forward to Thursday’s game, his first road start against the Arizona Coyotes since the Jan. 14 Wild-Coyotes trade that sparked the Wild’s playoff run and resurrected Dubnyk’s career.
Still, looking at the schedule, Dubnyk wanted to know where he would be starting next. He saw the Wild plays the next night in Los Angeles, and it never dawned on him that after only three starts this season, he already would be given his first rest. Despite being 16-2-1 on the road with the Wild and having given up seven goals in his past six second of back-to-back situations last season, Dubnyk is scheduled to back up Darcy Kuemper against the Kings.
It was a natural mistake for Dubnyk to make. He started 38 consecutive games for the Wild last season before getting his one and only game off the second-to-last game after the Wild clinched a playoff spot.
“I didn’t even think about not playing the game until I realized that it wasn’t last year,” Dubnyk, 29, said, laughing. “I look at the schedule and assume that I’m playing every game until I get told otherwise.”
Dubnyk’s not complaining though.
“It’s good. It’s important. It’s a long season,” Dubnyk said. “You need both guys going, you need both guys to win games for you. … Kuemps has looked great, and it’ll be good for him to get in there.”
Dubnyk is excited to return to Arizona. His home debut for the Wild last season was against the Coyotes, a 26-save victory. So he knows what to expect, especially given the fact he’s played former teams, Edmonton and Nashville, multiple times, too.
On Jan. 14, after practice with the Coyotes, Dubnyk picked up his mother, who was in town visiting. Suddenly Dubnyk’s wife, Jennifer, called through the “do not disturb” that Dubnyk accidentally left on his phone.
She asked why General Manager Don Maloney called. Dubnyk said, “That’s probably not good,” hung up and sure enough looked at his phone and saw he missed several calls and texts.
Dubnyk, who played for three teams the year before and ended the season in the minors, was traded to the Wild. His mom did everything to assure him all would be fine.
“My mind was racing. I just needed to think,” Dubnyk said. “But as the day went on, the more and more excited I got about getting a chance here.”
Dubnyk hopped on a red-eye, shut out the Sabres the next night, led the Wild on a remarkable second-half turnaround, was nominated for the Vezina Trophy, won the Masterton Trophy and was rewarded with a new six-year, $26 million contract to stay in Minnesota.
In 39 starts for the Wild last season, Dubnyk won 27 games and gave up 68 goals, posting a .936 save percentage and recording five shutouts in his first 16 starts.
“Every once in awhile a story comes along where a guy rejuvenates his career and all of a sudden goes from an afterthought in most people’s minds to a valuable part of a team, and it’s always a thrill to watch that,” said Sean Burke, a longtime NHL goalie who recently left the Coyotes but coached Dubnyk there last season. “I’m really proud of Duby. He got everything he deserved.”
Despite a nightmare 2013-14 season, Dubnyk came to Arizona with a great attitude, worked hard and accepted his role as Mike Smith’s backup.
“I attribute a lot of the success last year to the way the guys [in Arizona], the coaches, the organization brought me in and were excited to have me,” Dubnyk said. “I wasn’t a damaged project [in their eyes] that they were trying to resurrect. Everybody was excited to have me there.
“It felt like I had been part of that team a long time,” Dubnyk said.
Burke said the biggest thing he worked on with Dubnyk, a former Oilers first-round pick, was self-esteem.
“I identified right away with a player that was beaten down,” Burke said. “His confidence, his belief in himself was very low, and it resulted from a really tough year of being moved around and not finding any rhythm in his game.
“I had to get Devan to believe that physically the tools were all still there. It was a matter of bringing them back out again.
“He was outstanding for us, and when he left us, I had no doubt he would play extremely well. It didn’t surprise me at all the kind of year he had with Minnesota and it won’t surprise me now when he continues to be a very good player in this league hopefully for a long, long time.”