Oilers young goalie mastering mental game

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:56 PM ET

CALGARY ó Devan Dubnyk has the tools to be a NHL goalie.

This season, itís been all about mastering the toolbox for the Edmonton Oilers netminder, who hails from Calgary.

Dubnyk, who started Saturday nightís clash with the Flames, finally made the jump to the NHL ranks this season due to the season-ending back problems suffered by Nikolai Khabibulin.

Sure, the NHL life is so much better than in the AHL for the 23-year-old puck stopper, but it hasnít come all with cherries and whipped cream.

Consider his first NHL action; In 52 minutes of relief after starter Jeff Deslauriers surrendered four goals, Dubnyk allowed three tallies on 24 shots when the Oilers lost 7-3 to Vancouver Nov. 28.

Consider his first NHL start; Seven goals allowed, on 26 shots, in a 7-2 defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 21.

Consider his record heading into Saturday nightís game; An 0-5-1 mark with a 3.92 goals-against average and .869 save percentage.

Those kind of hard knocks could wear down a young goalie, but Dubnyk believes heís winning the mental game.

ďI feel like Iíve got that under control. My mentality, the way I approach games, is I like to have fun. I try not to build things up too much, build up situations. I just try to play the game. Thatís one thing thatís worked for me,Ē he said. ďThat seven-goal game was not the way I wanted my first NHL game to go, but the sun comes up the next day and you keep going because itís really not the end of the world. Iíve enjoyed every minute Iíve got to be on the ice so far, and go that way.

ď(Against the Flames) I try not to build up this game because itís my home town, against Calgary and Iíve got friends and family here. Itís just another hockey game.

ďIf I play the way Iím successful, then things will work out for me. This year has been a good learning process.Ē

Then again, you need the ability to shrug off things.

Dubnyk, who Edmonton drafted 14th overall in 2004, has shown that ability the last couple of seasons.

Last yearís AHL Springfield team finished last in the league, but Dubnyk mustered very strong numbers while fighting through it.

Heís had to do the same since being summoned by the Oilers, since itís a team which went into last nightís clash with just one win in 20 games.

ďThatís part of the learning process,Ē said head coach Pat Quinn. ďYoung guys have that up and down, and itís emotion. A good pro learns how to deal with those emotional issues, good and bad. Thatís where mental toughness comes in.

ďI think heís in a learning stage. Just like heís trying to learn his technique, heís trying to learn the mental side of the business. Itís certainly a chance under fire. We think both these young guys are fighting hard to be good players, and thatís what we need out of them.Ē

Of course, Dubnyk still has plenty of work to do on his game, but the raw ability is there. At 6-foot-5, he covers a lot of net, but also has very good agility to go with it.

Now, heís fully learning to mesh it together.

ďOne thing Iíve found coming here is you have to try to not change too much from the way I was playing in Springfield,Ē he said. ďItís easy to come here and think Iíve got to do this a lot better, be faster and do that, but then you get away from what makes you successful as a goaltender.

ďObviously things happen quicker and the shots are better, but hockeyís still played the same way and you still play goal the same way. If anything, you have to make sure youíre on top of every single play. If youíre off by an inch in the American Hockey League, you still might get a puck. If youíre off by an inch here, theyíll put it by you.

ďYou have to be that much more focused about being on top of everything.Ē

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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