While the UBC Thunderbirds rise to national prominence in women’s ice hockey is one of the great sports stories of the last decade in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), a key figure in such a remarkable run was certainly goaltender Danielle Dube. On the ice, her talents were prevalent, contributing to a pair of Canada West postseason titles (2013, 2016), along with the program’s first-ever appearance in the CIS National Championship Game in 2016.
With a sparkling 17-7 record in her freshman campaign, complemented by a 1.91 goals against average and a .935 save percentage, her world-class skills between the pipes helped to inspire the rest of her teammates on the Thunderbirds, instilling the confidence in them that success was possible. For her efforts, she was recognized as a Canada West First-Team All-Star and CIS Second-Team All-Canadian, respectively.
Her legacy with the Thunderbirds is without dispute. Over the span of four fantastic seasons, she would accumulate an impressive 39 wins, compared to only 14 losses. Perhaps more impressive was a superlative 1.82 goals against average and her .931 save percentage. Complementing the strong regular season numbers were a 15-6 postseason mark, highlighted by a 1.91 GAA, respectively.
Considering that there were so many milestones and exceptional highlights in her Thunderbirds career, Dube reflects on her time by employing a team-first approach. Such an outlook is evident when asked about a favorite moment in her career,
“There are too many to pick one. For me it was seeing the growth of the girls and the program. I think knowing that I have been a part of creating a legacy here at UBC is a great honour.”
Despite an 0-2 start in her senior season, Dube would show tremendous resolve, capuring victory in seven of her next nine stars. In addition, she would finish the season with wins in six of her last eight starts, including the playoffs. Statistically, she was a marvel as her 1.76 GAA ranked second overall in the conference.
Topping all goaltenders in the conference with 26 goals against, she would rank fourth in save percentage. Overall, Dube impressed by ranking in the top 10 for 10 major goaltending categories in Canada West play.
Balancing a career as a fire fighter and a proud mother of two, while handling the academic responsibilities of being a student-athlete, her efforts with the Thunderbirds were rewarded off the ice as well. In the aftermath of her final season with the Thunderbirds, Dube was bestowed the honor of the May Brown Trophy.
Sharing the prize with track and field competitor Maria Bernard, the trophy recognized the university’s Graduating Female Athlete of the Year. As a side note, it complemented a previous honor where she was named BC’s Female Athlete of the Year. To graduate as co-recipient of the May Brown Trophy was a treasured milestone for Dube,
“It is an honor to be named Graduating Female athlete of the year. It always seems a bit odd to win an individual award for playing a team sport and I would not have been successful if it were not for the team in front of me.”
On the surface, it would be easy to consider Dube’s opportunity to compete in the CIS National Championship Game as the most significant moment of her season. To look deeper is to reveal a turning point that made such a journey even more treasured. Displaying great character, Dube managed to recover from an injury that potentially shelved her career.
A road game in Winnipeg against the University of Manitoba resulted in a frightening situation for Dube, causing tremendous concern among teammates and coaches alike. Covering a puck while on her hands and knees, a Manitoba Bisons forward and Thunderbirds blueliner were tangles up, unfortunately landing on top of Dube’s head, resulting in her neck driven into her shoulders.
Laying motionless on the ice for 30 minutes, it brought back horrible memories of Denna Laing’s injury at the Women’s Winter Classic. After such a tragic chapter in the 2015-16 season, there was serious concerns that such a life-changing and debilitating injury may happen again. With players advising the coaching staff that Dube could not feel her legs, let alone move her hands or feet, fans could have been forgiven if they thought she may never play again.
Taken to ambulance after being placed on a spine board, Dube would spend the evening in hospital undergoing a series of tests. After the assessment of a neurosurgeon revealed that she suffered two bulged disks in her neck, the worst fears were subsided as there was no signs of disability.
After a few days rest, Dube inspired her team, suiting up in a backup capacity to Samantha Langford as the Thunderbirds opened their best-of-three playoff series against Regina. Even more impressive was the fact that Dube would get the start in game two. In an outcome that seemed straight out of a Hollywood movie, she would log 25 saves in a 1-0 shutout win.
Dube would continue her heroics in the third and deciding game, blocking 20 of 22 Cougars shots. With the series clinched, the Thunderbirds would gain the opportunity to host the Canada West final, an unprecedented first in program history. Adding to the intrigue was the fact that the opponents in the final would be Manitoba, the same team Dube suffered the injury against. There would be no cause for concern as she continued to display her resiliency, spearheading the team to a convincing yet redeeming series win, including a 21 save performance in a game 3 final that saw the Thunderbirds prevail by a 2-1 tally.
“After my injury I was determined to get back on the ice or at least back on the bench to support the team. Once I got back in the net I knew I had to make the most of it as it may be my last opportunity to play at this level. It’s been wonderful watching the team and the program grow over the last four years and an appearance in the National finals was just the icing on the cake.”
Having turned 40 years young on March 10, Dube’s return to the rink is one built on unforeseen yet unique legend. After Jen Rawson spent only one season as the Thunderbirds head coach in 2012, a bold new direction took place with the appointment of Graham Thomas, a former member of the Syracuse coaching staff, as bench boss.
Communicating with Thomas about a possible position on the coaching staff, the conversation had informally shifted to the possibility of playing. While Dube made the decision to play university hockey for the first time in her career, she had only planned to play one season. Instead, one season would be the springboard to one of the greatest hockey careers in program history.
Part of an exceptionally talented Class of 2016 which also featured Langford, Cailey Hay and Rebecca Unrau, Dube was definitely a game changer for the program, setting a gold standard for work ethic and dedication, which inspired the younger players to emulate her efforts. A former member of the Canadian national women’s ice hockey team, capturing IIHF gold in 1997, Dube was a catalyst from the first moment she donned the Thunderbirds jersey.
Although there may have been a generation gap between Dube and many of the incoming freshman, as many of those future teammates were in their earliest years of school when Dube captured IIHF gold, such future would prove to be a gratifying time for Dube. As one of the pioneers in the game, helping establish its resurgence in the 1990s, Dube worked tirelessly for future generations of women to enjoy the game.
Getting the opportunity to extend her playing career with the Thunderbirds and pursue her education, while calling that next generation of players her teammates was highly enjoyable. Except for her experiences with the national team, suiting up for the Thunderbirds actually represented a unique moment in Dube’s career as they were the first all-female club team that she stood between the pipes for.
Graduating with a degree in psychology, Dube has ambitions to pursue a master’s degree and apply it to her profession outside of hockey. Among a group of women that have graced the ice and pursued careers in the traditionally male-dominated world of firefighting after hanging up their skates (such as Amber Bowman, Ashley Pendleton and Amanda Shaw), it is an extension of Dube’s legacy as a pioneer, continuously challenging social convention and inspiring other women to pursue their own dreams,
“After taking a number of years away from the game it was amazing to come back and be able to make an impact at one of the top levels of women’s hockey. It was really my first experience playing on an all women’s team, other than my national team experience, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do so.
The girls were very accepting of me as a teammate and very understanding in terms of me having other priorities in my life like kids and work. I also have a new appreciating of learning and really enjoyed the school aspect. I plan to return for grad school in the counseling psychology department as it is directly related to my work as a firefighter.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Richard Lam