Dillon Dube turned 20 in July. He’s too old for the 2019 World Juniors. Yet a little piece of this Canadian ace wishes he could suit up in his home province.
“It’d be great if I could play that tournament every single year!” said Dube, who (appropriately) hails from Golden, British Columbia. “It’s incredible. For me, that was like the Olympics, representing Canada for everybody. It is when you get that chance. It’s the highest stage where I’ve been able to represent Canada.”
Shifty, speedy and smart, Dube was chosen as the Canadian captain when he played his second straight World Juniors last year. The Kelowna Rockets forward delivered the goods on a dangerous line with Sam Steel and Jordan Kyrou. In the 3-1 gold medal game victory over Sweden at Buffalo’s KeyBank Center, Dube scored the opening goal at 1:49 of the second period on the rush. It was an unforgettable, joyous night.
However, when asked what advice he’d give to Canadian players making their World Junior debut in Vancouver, Dube casts his mind back to the 2017 gold medal game in Montreal. That experience was as heartbreaking as it was thrilling for coach Dominique Ducharme’s troops. Host Canada lost 5-4 in a shootout to the Americans.
“Just stay calm,” Dube urged. “It’s tough. The atmosphere’s crazy, especially here in Canada. I remember at one point I couldn’t even hear my coach trying to talk. We were in the Bell Centre and it was nuts. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of. I don’t think I’ll ever be in a situation like that again unless it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs or finals or something. It was the final of the World Juniors in the Bell Centre, probably one of the biggest rinks in the NHL. It was pretty special and everybody was cheering for you. So just stay calm. Canada’s behind you when you’re here. It’ll be a special experience for all those guys.”
Even though his 2016-17 campaign was hampered by injuries and he had to get over settling for silver against the U.S., Dube didn’t wilt. On 13 January, just over a week after the final in Montreal, he earned his first career WHL hat trick in a 9-2 romp over the Victoria Royals at the secondary venue for the 2019 World Juniors, the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
Now Dube is trying to make his mark with the Calgary Flames organization. Drafted in the second round in 2016 (56th overall), he’s already appeared with the team’s minor-league affiliate, the Stockton Heat, in the 2017 and 2018 AHL playoffs. In his last WHL season, he achieved career highs with 38 goals and 46 assists in 53 games for Kelowna. Interestingly, he’s now part of the same organization as Tyler Parsons, the U.S. goalie who dazzled with 44 saves in the 2017 World Junior final.
After missing four games with a concussion, Dube got his first NHL goal in a 6-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets on 21 November. Dube has every opportunity to succeed in today’s speed- and finesse-oriented NHL, despite not towering over opponents at 180 cm and 83 kg. He made his intentions clear in his first exhibition game of 2018, potting a hat trick against the archrival Edmonton Oilers.
As he chases his NHL dream, it’ll be tough for him to follow the 2019 World Juniors as closely as he might like. Almost as tough as tapping into memories of the 2006 tournament, which marked the first time the World Juniors took place in British Columbia (Vancouver, Kelowna, Kamloops).
Dube was only seven years old when Canada’s Brent Sutter coached a defensive powerhouse to gold, culminating with a 5-0 final shutout versus MVP Yevgeni Malkin’s Russians at GM Place (now Rogers Arena). Does he recall any of that?
“No, I don’t,” Dube admitted. “I remember the Olympics here in Vancouver. That was a little bit different. But for me, obviously it’s hard to remember that. I tried to watch as many World Junior games as I could. As a player, when you get older and you start to play in it, it’s hard to remember.”
In a nice touch, the Kelowna Rockets have immortalized Dube and his 2018 World Junior teammate, defenceman Cal Foote, on their Wall of Recognition at Prospera Place. Dube was the first Rocket to captain a Canadian World Junior team and Foote captained the Rockets last season. This honour certainly affirms their leadership qualities.
“I think when you first go there, you see all those guys and you talk to your parents: ‘Imagine one day being up there,” Dube said. “Then it’s your first year out, and they decide to put you up there. It’s pretty cool, especially going up with a teammate who you played with for three and a half years.”
He’s grateful to the franchise in the Okanagan Valley, which has produced elite NHLers like Jamie Benn, Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, and Leon Draisaitl.
“For myself, I couldn’t really ask for more. I’d like to thank the Rockets for everything they did for me. They, since I was 16, gave me the opportunity to go to World Juniors, get drafted, go to the Memorial Cup. They basically got me on that wall. They were pretty good to me.”
Time marches on, but practicing gratitude and revisiting great hockey memories never gets old. Just ask Dillon Dube.