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Dillon Dube’s speed, focus on off-season training paying off for Flames

It’s been three years since Dillon Dube’s introduction to the NHL included an Erik Gudbranson shoulder to the chin on his very first shift.

As the Flames winger watched a puck cleared into the neutral zone mere seconds into his first NHL shift, the then-Canucks defenceman stepped into the unsuspecting rookie with an ugly hit that dropped Dube instantly.

With the puck nowhere near the play, the mugging drew an obvious interference call, not to mention the ire of the Flames bench. It was a whole thing, as Travis Hamonic’s ensuing attempt to stand up for Dube left him with a fractured face courtesy of Gudbranson’s fist.

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All of which is to say, one might assume Gudbranson’s arrival as a free agent signing in Calgary had the potential of including an uncomfortable re-introduction.

Not for Dube, who caught Gudbranson with his head down in the dressing room the first chance he got.

“The first time I didn’t even introduce myself – I just went up to him and said, ‘you owe me dinner,’” laughed Dube, breaking the ice brilliantly.

“I honestly forgot about it, but all the other guys were giving it to me about that with him coming in. The type of guy he is, once he gets into a game he’s super intense. Off the ice, he’s such a kind person. He’s so nice, and right away he’s such a good team person that honestly it didn’t bother me.

“That’s hockey. You battle against each other and respect them and when they come into your locker room you are best friends.”

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Although it might not have felt like it that night, as a dazed Dube slowly got off the ice, he jokes now that Gudbranson did him a favour.

“He definitely welcomed me to the league, so my head is on a swivel all the time now,” he chuckled.

Fast forward to Thursday in Detroit where the two collaborated for a 3-0 Flames win they both played prominent roles in. Both were a big part of the penalty kill that limited the Wings to just one shot on goal.

Gudbranson logged more ice time while short-handed than anyone, and Dube’s speed while down a man helped create a great chance that drew a penalty.

As part of an NHL journey that has had a seemingly endless string of setbacks for the 23-year-old forward, nights like Thursday had to be particularly rewarding.

After all, the opportunity was a big one as Dube was making his season debut centring the second line between Andrew Mangiapane and Brett Ritchie. Moved to the middle of the line that used to be anchored by Sean Monahan, coach Darryl Sutter said he felt the unit could benefit from Dube’s speed.

Indeed, Dube’s wheels helped the Flames gain the zone to set up Managiapane’s goal late in the first period for a 2-0 lead.

Sutter was particularly tough on the second-round pick last season – something Dube insists was warranted.

“That’s because I hadn’t been playing good enough,” said Dube, equally as hard on himself despite a season that saw him score 11 goals and add 11 assists in 51 games as a third and fourth liner.

“That’s what you want from a coach – you want him to be honest. You don’t want mind games.

It helps me out as a player. I’ve got to be on every shift. It’s huge for me to be able to have that and learn from him.”

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Dube’s evolution has also included an increased focus on off-season training, which resulted in him finishing tops in team fitness testing this fall.

“I was surprised, to be honest, because I know how hard the guys work,” said Dube, who spends his summers in nearby Cochrane, Ab. so he can train with the team’s renowned conditioning coach Ryan van Asten.

“It just shows how great a trainer RVA is. He’s strictly the reason I stay in Calgary. I know for me to be better I need to stay with him and his program.

“This time, coming in, I just wanted to be ready to play the game the right way. The years before, I cheated a little bit and tried to be more offensive and really produce.

“With Darryl I wanted to show I’m ready to be more responsible and play the right way.”

One thing Dube isn’t quite ready to buy into is the notion that he’s a dead ringer for Roy Kent of Ted Lasso fame.

Although he’s never watched the show, he’s been chirped so much about it by teammates he had to take a peek at his doppelganger when the team posted identical photos of the two bearded beauties.

“I don’t know if I look like him too much,” said Dube, who might be the only one who shares that view.

“It’s hard to compare yourself to someone. I don’t know how I look. Once I shave it might be a little different story – I think it’s just the beard and the big eyebrows. I’ll take it I guess.

Maybe I have to keep the beard to keep the people happy.”

As he’d be the first to point out, keeping the coach happy is priority No. 1.

So far so good.

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Written by Sportsnet

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