Even five years later, Devan Dubnyk chuckles at the memory.
He had arrived in Minnesota to play his first home game after a perfect debut in Buffalo and despite a low-scoring win over Arizona in a game he faced fewer shots than normal, the crowd at Xcel Energy Center was raucous.
“The place was just going bananas,” Dubnyk recalled. “I was like, ‘I don’t know where this came from, but this is awesome.’ ”
His airtight goaltending didn’t just endear him to fans; Dubnyk rescued the Wild’s season and extended it to the playoffs, all the while resurrecting his own career and paving the foundation for a lengthy marriage with the Wild.
That’s the legacy that ended Monday when the Wild traded its longtime starter and a 2022 seventh-round draft pick Monday to San Jose for a 2022 fifth-rounder, but Dubnyk discovered much more than hockey success.
He found a home.
“We’re extremely lucky to have been able to come to a place like this that is such an amazing place to settle down and to have a family,” Dubnyk said by telephone Monday evening, “and I will forever be thankful for that.”
Although Dubnyk hoped he’d return to the Wild and be able to close out his career here, this outcome wasn’t unexpected.
“I feel like this is a really great opportunity for me to just go have a good season and get back to playing the way I have been”
After the Wild bowed out of the NHL postseason just four games into its qualifying-round series inside the Edmonton bubble, General Manager Bill Guerin expressed his disappointment with the team’s goaltending.
While backup Alex Stalock had a career year and took over the crease, including every minute of the playoffs, the 34-year-old Dubnyk struggled.
He went 12-15-2 with an .890 save percentage and 3.35 goals-against average — output that ranked among the worst in the league for goalies who logged at least as many games (30) as him.
Off the ice, his wife, Jenn, was dealing with a medical situation and Dubnyk left the team to be with her in November. He sat out 14 games before eventually returning to play.
“It is part of the change that’s going on here,” said Guerin, who already this offseason has moved on from other veterans in Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal while getting younger. “We need to go in a different direction.”
Dubnyk heard the Wild and Sharks were trying to finalize the trade over the weekend, news that initially shocked him, but he didn’t receive official word until Monday morning. By then, he was hoping the deal would get done since he was starting to feel excited about the prospect. Dubnyk will compete for ice time with the Sharks’ current No. 1, Martin Jones.
“I feel like this is a really great opportunity for me to just go have a good season and get back to playing the way I have been,” said Dubnyk, who wants to play beyond his current six-year, $26 million contract that expires after next season. The Wild retained half of Dubnyk’s remaining salary.
Although the final chapter of his Wild career came to an unceremonious close, Dubnyk’s tenure in Minnesota was inspiring.
A first-round pick in 2004 who broke in with the Oilers, Dubnyk was shipped from Edmonton to Nashville and then Montreal only months apart in 2014 before getting demoted to the minors.
Next season, Arizona tabbed him to be its backup and Dubnyk capitalized on the opportunity to re-establish himself as an NHLer — so much so that the Wild acquired him on Jan. 14, 2015, to stabilize its crease during the team’s second-half playoff push.
What happened next was one of the more legendary moments in team history. After an overnight flight to meet up with the team in Buffalo, Dubnyk stopped all 18 shots he faced to become the first Wild goalie to win his debut in shutout fashion.
“All of a sudden, that flight to Buffalo doesn’t seem that long ago,” Dubnyk said.
Overall, Dubnyk went 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and five shutouts that season to lead the Wild to the playoffs and secure his spot with the organization.
His torrid run, on the heels of bottoming out to the minors, earned him the 2015 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which recognizes perseverance and dedication to hockey. Dubnyk also finished third in Vezina Trophy voting and was fourth in the race for league MVP. He was also named to the NHL’s Second All-Star Team.
“Every game was just a bonus that I didn’t expect, and I was so happy to be playing,” Dubnyk said.
Since then, Dubnyk represented the Wild in three All-Star Games (2016, 2017 and 2019). He ranks second or tied for second in many franchise categories, including wins (177), save percentage (.918), goals-against average (2.41) and shutouts (23). Dubnyk also leads the NHL in games played (328) and sits second in wins (177) since he made his Wild debut.
And Dubnyk will have a constant reminder of what that time meant to him. He and Jenn and their three sons, Nate, Parker and Dawson, are keeping their Minnesota residence and will stay here in the offseasons before living here full-time when Dubnyk’s finally done playing.
“This is our home,” Dubnyk said. “We’re forever grateful [for] the way that we were embraced here.”