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Dubnyk ready for a return to normalcy, both on and off the ice

COVID pause halted challenging season for Wild goaltender eager to reclaim his place in the crease

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

Now approaching two months since the COVID-19 pandemic put the NHL's 2019-20 season on pause, perhaps nobody is more anxious for an opportunity to return than Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk.

The stoppage has allowed Dubnyk to hit reset on what was one of the most challenging chapters of his professional hockey career.

An 0-5 start to the season turned out to be a bad omen.

After watching the Wild's 4-1 win in Buffalo from the bench on Nov. 19, he and the team returned to the Twin Cities, where Dubnyk discovered his wife, Jenn, was struggling with a serious medical issue. Dubnyk wouldn't play again for a month. 

He won his first three starts after returning to the lineup in Arizona on Dec. 19, but as the season wore on, his playing time became more scarce, as Alex Stalock wrestled away a bulk of the starts.

Dubnyk won his only start of the Wild's three-game California road trip, the team's final game before the pause in Anaheim on March 8.

Statistically, it's been his toughest season in a Wild uniform. Personally, it's been difficult to navigate, at times, uncertain medical waters at home. 

And now, to top it off, a global pandemic. 

Video: Locker room postgame at Anaheim

"That pretty much sums up how crazy and how ridiculous this season has been," Dubnyk said. 

While the stoppage came in the midst of crunch time for many of the League's teams, a pause may not have been the worst thing for Dubnyk. 

Despite returning to the ice nearly three months earlier, getting comfortable on road trips was a difficult task. It didn't take long before thoughts of what was going on back in Minnesota would creep in. 

Even as more and more positivity creeped in, Dubnyk didn't have the kind of peace of mind he will have if and when the NHL season hits resume at some point this summer.

"I think really, the first little while, after the pause, to just be home and be with everybody. Jenn was feeling better each day, so getting back to just feeling things were normal again and the way we're used to operating was definitely good," Dubnyk said. "For a while, it was difficult to go on the road and not be concerned about the way things are at home. And now, I certainly know that feeling won't be there anymore.

"I think the most important thing is getting back to that normalcy that we're used to as a family."

It's a badly needed normalcy that has come during a time where seemingly everything in the world is everything but.

The pitfalls and downturns have all been something Dubnyk has reflected on over the past two months. 

"When it got stopped and you realized this was going to be longer than anybody would like, mentally, it's important to step back," Dubnyk said.

Now, Dubnyk says he's eager to get back to normal professionally as well. And that means getting back, hopefully, to the level of play he demands of himself.

"The biggest thing I said before all this happened is, the reason we're here and the reason we play is to win," Dubnyk said. "Of course, I'm as competitive as anybody and I always expect to be in the net every night, the reason we're here is winning, and if you have a guy who was playing as well as Al was and we're winning hockey games, then I'm gonna be there, I'm gonna sit there and enjoy it and be with my team and enjoy winning, and make sure that whenever I'm called on, I'm ready to contribute."

Don't mistake that for a guy content to just get back to the way things were. Dubnyk is ready to re-take his starting position should the season resume. If Stalock can pick up where he left off, the Wild sure hopes it will be the beneficiaries of a friendly, but increasingly competitive, battle for playing time.

"I'm the same goalie I have been my entire career and I expect to be a starting goalie," Dubnyk said. "I certainly expect to be that again."

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