Oilers young goalie mastering mental game

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:56 PM ET

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

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

Dubnyk, who started Saturday nights 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 hasnt 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 nights 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 hes winning the mental game.

I feel like Ive 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. Thats one thing thats worked for me, he said. That 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 its really not the end of the world. Ive enjoyed every minute Ive got to be on the ice so far, and go that way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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, hes fully learning to mesh it together.

One thing Ive found coming here is you have to try to not change too much from the way I was playing in Springfield, he said. Its easy to come here and think Ive 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.

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

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

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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