By: George Johnson, CalgaryFlames.com
Too many memory-album Kodak Moments to keep track of.
The time-stopping news that he would indeed be included in the Oct. 3 opening-night lineup at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Representing his growing-up team of choice, no less, wearing a jersey he’d regarded back in the day as a sort of holy vestment.
So that first game, yes, most definitely.
Then three starts later, the first point, followed by the hard-to-come-by first goal following a month and a half of waiting.
But among the litany of never-to-be-replicated cameo keepsakes, Dillion Dube reckons Oct. 6 stands out above the rest. A rare Remember-Where-You-Were-When evening because he was there, in the moment, living it.
“My first game at the Saddledome was … amazing,” Dube is reflecting, a few time zones away from home while vacationing on the island of Maui, Hawaii.
“The retro jerseys. The atmosphere. Looking at my phone afterwards, all the people who were there that I didn’t know would be, sending me video of me in warm-up. The support that I got from everyone.
“Something I’ll never forget.”
That first blush of dream-come-true novelty has faded, as it invariably must. What begins is the business of carving out a long, meaningful career.
The 25 top-flight games on Dube’s NHL resume is a lifetime removed from, say, a commemorative Silver Stick ceremony but at least he now has a good feel for the league’s unique topography.
“It’s a tough gig to make the NHL straight out of junior but he did it,” reminds Flames’ GM Brad Treliving. “Dillon’s a real good young player, a really determined guy.
“I thought, all in all, it was an excellent year for him. When he went down, he was as good a 20-year-old player as there was in the (AHL). So he excelled there and has been around the NHL enough now not be be wondering anymore.
“He’s got to take the information and put that into his training.
“I think you’re going to see a guy at this camp who’s not so wide-eyed. You’re at that stage at 19 where it’s just great to be here, right?
“Now he not only has to make the team again but he’s got to carve out a niche, find where he fits in the group. Not just being a part of it, you have to strive to help the team win.”
Along with the highs, naturally, came setbacks.
On Nov. 3, a no-need-for hit by Chicago’s Duncan Keith sent Dube tumbling head-first into the end boards behind the Blackhawks’ net. Early in the rookie’s first shift of the night.
He’d return to active duty after missing four games, play a half dozen here and then, for increased ice time/sharpening-up purposes, be dispatched to AHL Stockton.
“Know what?” reasons Dube, five months later. “Things happen for a reason. At first, it was tough, for sure, going down. That’s now where you want to be.
“But maybe, if (the injury) hadn’t happened, I’d have just kept putting along at the pace I was on. Looking back, I think being sent down might be the best thing that could’ve happened.
“I was just supposed to go to Stockton and play a little bit, get my feet back under me and then come up again. Just a lull, right? I ended up staying 35 games. That isn’t a lull. And I think it wound up helping me in the long run.
“The injury itself was hard. Not having any concussion problems before when you hear the diagnosis for the first time you do get a little worried. I was back, feeling 100 per cent, quicker than I thought, though.
“But the time in Stockton I really started to feel good about myself and my game again.”
Over the 37 starts spread over two AHL stints, Dube would amass 39 points and help the Heat make a spirited, if ultimately unsuccessful, late playoff push.
Head coach Cail MacLean certainly came away impressed by the half-season sample size.
“Dillon has elite-level speed. His ability play the game with pace and to use his best asset helped him finished with just over a point a game, I think, in his time here.
“That, his speed, really stands out at this level, especially among players of his age.
“The challenge for Dillon now is to bring every aspect of his game up to NHL-level standards, his 200-foot game, responsibility and intensity all over the ice.
“He’s got some tools that not a lot of people have, he’s done a good job with them and now, to be a full-time NHLer, he needs to round out his game.”
Just at the moment, though, he’s kicking back in Maui, the land of leis and Luaus, surfing and sunscreen, gently swaying palm trees and Don Ho warbling Tiny Bubbles on a continuous loop. Teammates Mark Jankowski and Garnet Hathaway are along for company.
“The other day we went snorkelling,” reports Dube. “Really cool. On these motorized scooters … I don’t know what they were called. Anyway, they pulled us around and we saw some turtles.
“No surfing. Just relaxing. It’s 9 o’clock in the morning here and it’s warm. You could used to this.
“So, nothing strenuous. I just want to feel better heading home than I did when I got here.”
The grunt work begins in earnest, naturally after he returns to Calgary and begins an off-season regimen overseen by Flames’ strength and conditioning coach Ryan van Asten.
“That,” says Dube, “makes things real easy. My goals and their goals are the same.”
To be a Flame opening night of regular-season, closing night, and those many nights in between.
“Last year,” he acknowledges, “I was just kinda there, playing, a feel-good story.
“It was great, don’t get me wrong. But just kinda being there, playing, isn’t the aim.
“You don’t only want to make the team.
“You want to make a difference.”