It simply didn't feel right.
In the days after the Minnesota Wild was eliminated from the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Devan Dubnyk was out of his old routines, and the habits he had built in a Wild sweater since mid-January.
"The hardest thing about it was you wanted to keep playing," Dubnyk said. "We were done, and I know the next couple of days, not going to the rink didn't feel right that we were done. That was frustrating."
Dubynk was playing the best hockey of his career, making the frustration manifest not only on a team-level, but also stifling Dubnyk's ability to keep playing, knowing he was in a groove.
"We played a lot of hockey toward the end, and the entire time I was playing last year I was really soaking it in, and understanding the things that I was doing that were allowing me to have success," Dubnyk said after skating last Thursday with his Wild teammates. "And I've kept those in mind."
Coming off a career year, Dubnyk earned a new contract, but the 29-year-old goalie knows the questions will persist.
Will he be able to replicate last season? Was his stretch run simply an anomaly?
"I don't need to prove anything," Dubnyk said. "It's obvious that's going to be a question, and I'm sure if I have a bad game it's going to get brought up, and that's just the way sports is.
"Again, it's understanding why I was having the success last year, and I'm fully capable of playing like that."
Training Against The Best
For the past four summers, Steve Valiquette, who serves as an analyst for MSG Network, the flagship station of the New York Rangers, has helped Pittsburgh Penguins strength and conditioning coach Andy O'Brien put on an offseason training camp in Colorado.
The camp's participants read something like an all-star team — this summer's included Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Tyler Seguin, Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Jason Spezza, and Jeff Skinner, among others.
Also in attendance was Dubnyk, who has worked with Valiquette before.
"This year the camp got big; there were 24 skaters there, and a lot of bigger names around the league," Valiquette said. " With that, there's a high level of competition. These guys love playing small games, 3-on-3's, where they get bumped a little more maybe than they do at their skates at home."
It can also make the job of a goalie that much harder.
"As a goalie to go out there, it pushes you because you realize every time you go on the ice, you have to be at your absolute or you're going to get torched," Dubnyk said. "It's a good thing to do leading into [training] camp because when you come back, obviously you feel like you've taken on some pretty good competition."
Practices were an hour and a half, according to Valiquette, and this year the camp added a full-ice, 3-on-3 to simulate the new NHL overtime format.
"A guy like Devan, he gets a great deal of high-quality repetitions," Valiquette said. "It probably is, it's fair to say, better than the environment for a regular NHL team for the goalies and the skaters. They're getting more high-quality reps because of the level of competition.
"It's all star players."
And among those stars emerged Dubnyk, according to Valiquette.
"For me, the year before he was playing up to everybody's level at the camp," he said. "And this year, watching him, I felt like the players had to play up to him."
Dubnyk was more reserved in his assessment, but did say it was a confidence-booster.
"I don't know if I'd go that far," he said. "I don't know if you're playing 3-on-3 with those guys if you're ever going to be dominant as a goalie.
"The difference in the way I felt and the mindset that I had going onto the ice was definitely the best I'd felt at that camp in the three times I'd been there. That's just from learning things that I hadn't, and playing at the level that I had. It's a nice feeling, and it's one that I want to continue to have."
Confidence, Dubnyk said, is key.
Getting Back Into A Groove
Valiquette and Dubnyk each said the summer months have to be handled delicately for a goalie when it comes to preparing for the following season.
"The toughest element is probably just getting started and believing that you can get back to that point of being in midseason form when you can see the puck coming off the blade really cleanly, and building that flight path, and knowing where it's going," Valiquette said. "It's not something that you can really train off the ice.
"In our sport, it comes from below us, so you have to look at it a certain way."
Goalies, unlike other positions, won't do much heavy lifting over the summer. Instead it's about refining and maximizing physical attributes of the body to optimize on-ice performance.
"I feel real good physically," Dubnyk said. "I just worked a lot on mobility, and core stability, just really movements as a goalie."
Valiquette said he noticed how much Dubnyk's mobility had improved, which Valiquette said will help Dubnyk to stay square to shooters and maintain his angles.
"As a goalie person that loves hockey, and a fan first of good goaltending, there was a number of times when I watching him, and I was like, 'oh, this is incredible,'" Valiquette said. "It was amazing. Guys were coming right in between the hash marks, and ripping low-blocker, and he was just looking down at it, and bringing his blocker down, and I was just really happy to see it."
Taking Nothing For Granted
When Dubnyk was in the middle of his 38-game consecutive starts streak for the Wild, a stretch in which no other Wild goalie started a game for 83 days, and Dubnyk played 46 percent of the Wild's regular season schedule, it was easy to wonder when and if Dubnyk would get a night off.
Dubnyk though, had other thoughts.
"Even during that stretch, I wanted to make sure that [coach Mike Yeo] was starting me not because he felt like he had to, or because he had for that many games in a row, I wanted to earn that start," Dubnyk said. "I'll make sure I do that this year as well."
That's the attitude Dubnyk is bringing into this season, and one he said is buoyed by a level of confidence that elevates his game.
"Confidence is understanding, one, that you're capable of doing it," Dubnyk said. "I really, really tried to latch onto that last year, just understanding the level that I was capable of playing at, and then the things I was doing that were allowing me to do that, and then that gives you confidence.
"If you know exactly what you need to do to be successful, and you know that you can do it, then that just gives you the confidence to be able to play."
Valiquette agreed that confidence is key, and said that in Minnesota, Dubnyk is in the right place to succeed.
"He's in a great organization with great coaching, he really likes his goalie coach, loves his head coach, it's a really good environment for him," Valiquette said.
It's also partially why Valiquette hasn't veered from his expectations for Dubnyk.
"It's kind of been funny for me reading some of the things people have been writing," Valiquette said. "Where fantasy hockey experts are expecting some regression in his game, everyone is going to see the exact opposite: I've never seen him look sharper."
With both the on- and off-ice pieces working effectively in unison, Dubnyk said his keys to success aren't as complicated as some might imagine.
"There's no secret to it, there's no luck to it, it was playing with a great group of guys, and really concentrating on a few simple things that I need to be good at every night, and that's all it is," Dubnyk said. "I feel like a completely different person than I did going into the season last year, so hopefully I can continue to make strides forward."