The bizarre turn of events since the Wild season started isn’t lost on Devan Dubnyk.
After a miserable 0-5 start, the veteran goalie missed about a month of action to be with his wife, Jenn, while she dealt with a serious medical situation.
Once he returned, Dubnyk eventually lost the starting job and then the NHL shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. That mind-boggling journey led him to ask his wife, “What do you think you’d tell me?” if he predicted before the season this would be in store for him.
“That pretty much sums up how ridiculous and crazy this season has been and this whole thing,” Dubnyk said during a Thursday video conference call.
And it’s not over yet.
Dubnyk remains in Minnesota with his family while waiting to find out what’s next for the league, whether it completes the 2019-20 campaign that was halted in March or the plug is pulled for good.
Either way, the cliffhanger will steer Dubnyk in another unprecedented direction, and despite the adversity he has already faced, the 34-year-old is still eager to get back on the ice after a return to normalcy for his family.
“Everything is good here,” he said.
Like the Wild, Dubnyk struggled early in the season.
He was in net for the team’s first four losses and didn’t pick up his first win until after dropping a fifth game. His uneven play continued and after arriving back in the Twin Cities from a trip to Buffalo in mid-November, Dubnyk left the team to be with Jenn.
While he didn’t reveal specifics about her condition, Dubnyk said Jenn did require hospitalization and he ended up sitting out 14 games before playing again.
Although he was then back with the team on a mostly full-time basis, absent for only one more road game in January, Dubnyk’s appearances started to become more sporadic.
Backup Alex Stalock had gotten on a roll and usurped the crease, helping the Wild remain in contention for a playoff berth — a switch for Dubnyk, who has usually been the one leading the Wild to the postseason.
By the time the NHL paused, Dubnyk had played only three times in the Wild’s previous 14 games. Overall, he was 12-15-2 with an .890 save percentage and 3.35 goals-against average — tallies that ranked among the worst in the league for goalies who had logged at least as many games (30) as him.
“I’m as competitive as anybody, and I always expect to be in the net every night,” said Dubnyk, who was actually in goal for the Wild’s last game before the league suspended play — a 5-4 overtime victory at Anaheim on March 8. “But the reason we’re here is winning. And if we’ve got a guy that was playing as well as Al was, I’m going to sit there and enjoy it and be with my team and enjoy winning and make sure that whenever I’m called on to play I’m ready to contribute.
“Also don’t give up on yourself and understand that I’m the same goalie that I’ve been for my entire career. And I certainly expect to be a starting goalie.”
Back to normal
What’s also shaped Dubnyk’s perspective is what happened to Jenn.
When he rejoined the team in January, Dubnyk had “pretty good clarity” on what Jenn was dealing with and now she’s doing well.
“No concerns at the moment,” he said. “Just follow-ups as we go forward. They don’t expect to be seeing anything.”
Once the pandemic stalled the NHL, Dubnyk, Jenn and their three sons — Nate, 6; Parker, 4, and Dawson, 2 — used the downtime to recalibrate as a family while Jenn was improving.
“For a while it was difficult to go on the road and not be concerned about things going on at home,” Dubnyk said. “Now I certainly know that that feeling won’t be there anymore. That will be a nice thing. The most important thing was getting back to that normalcy we’re used to as a family.”
Their backyard is getting plenty of use as Dubnyk tries to keep the kids entertained. While it’s difficult for them to be holed up at home, Dubnyk has relished hanging out with them.
“You love to see them all the time,” he said.
Getting ready for a potential return also has been on Dubnyk’s agenda.
Aside from being able to spread out on his Sport Court, Dubnyk has a gym setup and a Peloton bike.
“That’s been a lifesaver for me,” he said.
Still, ramping back up to game mode if the season does resume will present a unique challenge.
Unlike the offseason when players have ample time to work out before training camp, the lead-up to a possible restart is likely to be only a few weeks.
Quality over quantity, however, could matter more for goalies, as Dubnyk believes a tuneup like this will be regimented with structured practices rather than the laxer vibe of summer skates.
But being prepared also means having the right mind-set.
Although he still flashes back to the season and particular games — “That’s just the life of a hockey player,” he said — Dubnyk also has striven for balance.
“If you’re going to sit there and hammer tennis balls against the wall for two hours a day because you’re worried we might return tomorrow and you’re not going to be ready, eventually that’s going to tip you over the edge,” Dubnyk said.
“When it got stopped and you realized this was going to be longer than anybody would like, mentally it’s important to step back.”
Prepping to revive a season when most of the league is usually idle would be different, but so would a cancellation.
As the team’s representative for the NHL Players’ Association, Dubnyk is up to date on the latest developments as the NHL brainstorms how it could reopen, but it’s tough for Dubnyk to mull over the various scenarios since so much remains uncertain.
“We want to get back playing hockey,” he said, “but it’s hard to say if that’s going to be possible or not.”
Even though the calendar is starting to creep up on the typical NHL offseason, this doesn’t feel the same to Dubnyk. During the summers, players know the game is coming back “but when you have it taken away,” Dubnyk said, “it’s certainly something that you miss.”
So, while he awaits a resolution, Dubnyk will focus on a familiar set of priorities — the same ones he valued when he was in-season: hockey and family.
“Just stay in shape as best as you can,” he said, “and other than that do your best to enjoy the time you have with people that you don’t usually have this much time with.”