Frankly, it’s hard to find a better comeback story.
One year ago, Devan Dubnyk was at the lowest point of his career. In a span of months, he had gone from being a third-year No. 1 goalie for the Edmonton Oilers to toiling in the minors with the Montreal Canadiens’ American Hockey League affiliate.
Now on his fifth team in a year, Dubnyk has become the toast of the NHL. The Wild’s second-half turnaround coincided with his arrival from Arizona, and Thursday night against the New York Rangers, Dubnyk started his 35th consecutive game for the Wild.
He had allowed two goals or fewer 26 times. He had allowed 57 goals in 34 starts, one fewer than the Wild allowed in the 14 games before he arrived. He was 26-6-1 with a 1.70 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, which includes a 14-1-1 road record with a 1.44 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.
Behind the scenes, it took soul-searching and hard work to resurrect his career and become this year’s feel-good NHL story. The Bill Masterton Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. Wild goalie Josh Harding won the hardware in 2013.
The Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association has chosen Dubnyk as this year’s Wild nominee.
“It feels like last year was so long ago now,” Dubnyk said Thursday morning. “The most important thing was getting that break [last] summer, really getting a chance to reflect on last year, think about what happened, what could I have controlled and what couldn’t I have controlled?
“I wanted to take the mind-set of realizing that if I would have played better, I wouldn’t have been in that situation, and not think that I didn’t get a fair shake or wasn’t treated fairly somewhere. The thing is if I would have played better hockey, I wouldn’t have ended up in Hamilton.”
The Coyotes threw Dubnyk, 28, a lifeline and signed him to a one-year deal. Dubnyk worked hard off the ice, traveled to Vail, Colo., to work with former NHL goalie Steve Valiquette on a new head trajectory technique and flew to Arizona early to work with goalie coach Sean Burke on his style.
The result has been seen on the ice, and the Wild is the beneficiary.
“Once I was able to get away from it and get back with my family, it gives you the opportunity to really just look back on the entire situation and understand what happened and what I could do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Dubnyk said he’s trying to “enjoy the wins and enjoy the feeling that we have here and what we’re doing because it is a special thing. It’s not like I’m trying my best to pretend nothing’s going on here. It’s been fun and I’m enjoying it.”
Cooke back soon
Wild coach Mike Yeo said a “realistic goal” for veteran Matt Cooke, who has missed 27 games, to return from a sports hernia is Tuesday in Chicago.
Yeo met this week with Thursday’s fourth line of Ryan Carter-Kyle Brodziak-Jordan Schroeder, scratched forwards Erik Haula and Sean Bergenheim, and Cooke for a pep talk.
They all deserve to be in the lineup nightly, Yeo said. But with the team healthy, that’s impossible. So he asked for each to have a good attitude and work hard.
“You don’t want guys being upset and negative around the locker room,” Schroeder said. “You want guys to be upbeat and positive and trying to help and support each other.
“Good teams have depth. It’s difficult for everyone from the coaches on down to make decisions when guys are playing so well and the team’s playing so well. So if you’re in, play your butt off and try to stay in the lineup. But things can change night to night.”