By Joanne Ireland
© The Edmonton Journal 2007
YELLOWKNIFE, Northwest Territories – For years, Devan Dubnyk watched his mom take on a far tougher opponent than he’ll ever have to face on the ice.
It is why there is a pink ribbon on his helmet, why he has taken part in breast cancer fundraisers, why he couldn’t help but reach out to a family in Kamloops, British Columbia, back when he was 19 years old and playing for the Western Hockey League’s Blazers.
At least the six-foot-five goaltender, now putting his game on display at the Edmonton Oilers rookie camp in Yellowknife, has less angst about his mom. Last November, Barb Dubnyk reached the cancer-free five-year milestone.
She got the news on a night Dubnyk was in the net for the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL. It was a game against Long Beach and one that he had dedicated to her. It was the Thunder’s fundraising for breast-cancer awareness and a team high bid of $7,000 was made for his jersey.
“I’m so proud of him. He is a wonderful kid,” said Barb in a phone interview from Calgary.
Dubnyk was 15 when his mom was diagnosed and he was devastated. He was certain she was going to die. Then he had to watch her endure the chemotherapy treatments, he watched her lose her blond hair, and he saw her will take over.
“It was pretty scary for him in the beginning. He thought I was going to die,” Barb continued. “But my husband and I talked to him and explained that I would be undergoing treatment and that it was beatable.”
Four years later, when Dubnyk was playing for the Blazers, he just happened to be watching a newscast when a story aired about a four-year-old named Oliver Harrison, who had a rare form of liver cancer.
Aside from the emotional toll the disease was taking on the family, there were regular trips to Vancouver for treatments and that meant a hit financially.
“I just decided I wanted to do something for him,” Dubnyk said. “He’s a really special kid.”
In a game in November 2005, Dubnyk pledged $15 for every save he made — and he made 30 in a 3-1 victory against the Kelowna Rockets.
His teammates chipped in, too, as did the coaches and by the time all the donations were tallied, Dubnyk had raised $1,500.
He then got the family tickets to a game, was there when Oliver dropped the puck, and he stayed in touch with the family right up until they moved to Alberta and changed e-mail addresses.
As for his mom, he calls her every day, and he’ll get a chance to see her again during the pre-season. His folks will drive up for the games that he plays and they will follow his progress after that.
This year, Dubnyk at least has the advantage of knowing there will be a spot for him in the Springfield lineup in the American Hockey League.
Last season, because the Oilers did not have a farm team, he wound up in the ECHL.
“It was a different situation, but you have to play wherever you get the chance. Obviously you’d like to be playing in the American league but Stockton was great. The fans were fantastic, it was a good experience for me, and I got a chance to play in the Spengler Cup. Then I got a chance to play a couple of games in Wilkes-Barre.”
© The Edmonton Journal 2007