Minnesota Wild return to ice with stalwart Dubnyk in goal

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) When Devan Dubnyk arrived last winter, the Minnesota Wild were drifting. His NHL career, too, had taken on a nomadic tone.

The six-year, $26 million contract signed by the lanky goalie during the summer was designed to give both Dubnyk and the Wild the stability they have desired for some time.

''We're very excited to be here,'' Dubnyk said, ''and call it home.''

Few midseason acquisitions make an impact like this, on a team that was 18-19-5 at the time of the mid-January trade. Not only did Dubnyk start 38 straight games to make up for the injuries to and ineffectiveness by Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom, he posted a 1.78 goals-against average for Minnesota after the simple swap with Arizona for a third-round draft pick.

With Dubnyk in the net for 39 of the final 40 games, the Wild finished 28-9-3.

''I tried to enjoy it as much as I could during the time and really soak it in so there wasn't a big crash or finally realizing what it was that we were doing,'' Dubnyk said at the start of training camp. ''I was trying to be very aware of what was going on at the time. It certainly was enjoyable, still is enjoyable, to think back on it at the time.''

The memories of last year aren't all warm. After beating St. Louis in six games in the Western Conference quarterfinals, the Wild were defeated yet again by nemesis and eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago, this time in a four-game sweep. Watching the last two rounds of the playoffs from the couch was tough.

''I just felt like we had a group that certainly could have been there,'' Dubnyk said, ''and that was disappointing and frustrating to watch.''

For the record, despite the heavy use down the stretch with the Wild trying to catch up in the standings, Dubnyk said he never wore down.

''Everybody, you have your days where your body doesn't feel so good when you wake up and it's kind of tough to peel yourself out of bed, but I had a real good routine,'' Dubnyk said, praising coach Mike Yeo's willingness to give him days off from practice.

Dubnyk, a first-round draft pick by Edmonton in 2004, entered a couple of seasons there as the top goalie. Those experiences didn't go well. Traded to Nashville, dealt to Montreal and then signed by Arizona, Dubnyk now has his opportunity again on a team that has been trying to solidify the goaltending situation for the last two years.

Backstrom ($4 million) and Darcy Kuemper ($1.5 million) are in the final seasons of their deals, but keeping three expensive goalies on the roster would be tough to manage under the salary cap.

''I enjoyed starting lots of games in a row, but one of the things I really want to concentrate on is not thinking about that, not thinking about starting a number of games in a row, not think that it's just going to be there and handed to me to start 15 games in a row,'' Dubnyk said. ''I want to be earning the next game every single time I'm on the ice.''

He clearly earned the trust of his new teammates last season.

''He came in at a time when we were at our lowest and helped pick us up,'' left wing Jason Zucker said. ''He's a really good team guy, and typically when you have a guy like that coming into your room it's pretty easy to accept him. We're going to accept everybody in our locker room, of course, but with a guy like that he makes himself feel at home, and we try to make him feel at home, too.''

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