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Getting Her Shot

Times Staff Writer

The girl who began her career playing hockey with boys is playing with men now.

Danielle Dube, who grew up in Vancouver, Canada, is a goaltender for the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the West Coast Hockey League.

A publicity stunt? Hardly. Dube, 26, earned her spot and will make her first start of the season tonight when the Ice Dogs play San Diego at Long Beach Arena.

In Long Beach’s season opener, Dube played eight minutes in a 6-0 loss at San Diego and gained her teammate’s respect by stopping 12 of 13 shots.

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“It was one of those games when nothing was going right, but she came in and held the fort down,” Long Beach veteran Roger Maxwell said about Dube. That game was the realization of a dream for the 5-foot-8, 145-pound Dube.

“I was nervous but a good nervous,” she said. “The way it happened was perfect. I’m glad [Long Beach Coach] Kevin [Kaminsky] didn’t do the publicity thing and give me some big start with all the press there.”

With veteran Mike Buzak and B.J. Boxma, Long Beach has a solid 1-2 punch in goal, but Boxma is on assignment from Manchester, the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate.

Kaminsky wasn’t sure whether he would keep three goaltenders to start the regular season, so he’d initially included Dube among the players released on the final cut-down day.

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Dube called her parents in Vancouver with the disappointing news, then loaded her pickup truck and started north on Interstate 5.

“It was a conversation that we’ve had many times in the past,” said Dube’s father, Rick, a fireman for more than 20 years. “You feel sad because you know it’s a tough situation. You just try and keep her spirits up.”

Dube had given up one goal in 30 minutes of preseason play.

“I was obviously disappointed,” she said. “When I started driving home, I was unsure what I was going to do with my life.”

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She didn’t have to think about it for long, though. Before she got past Redding, Kaminsky was on her cell phone, saying he had made a mistake.

“That was a shocker,” Dube said. “He didn’t promise me anything. He just said that he expected me to work hard to get better every day.”

*

As a kid growing up in East Vancouver, Dube started playing hockey when she was 4 and was a goaltender at 6. Her neighborhood had no girls’ program, so Dube joined the boys’ league and quickly became the best goalie on her team.

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Dube’s teams kept winning as she and her reputation grew. She was Paul Kariya’s teammate with the Penticton Panthers of the British Columbia Junior A circuit.

But when it came time to move to a higher junior level, Dube was left behind.

“Growing up, I was always the No. 1 goalie,” she said. “I didn’t even have a backup.... I would get tryout offers from scouts, but they wouldn’t know that I was a girl because of my name being French.... I would go to meet them and then they would tell me, they can’t help me because I’m a girl.”

So Dube turned to women’s hockey, advancing to the national team.

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She played on gold-medal winning teams at the 1995 and 1996 Pacific Rim tournaments, was the country’s top-ranked woman goaltender in 1996 and 1997, and won a gold medal with Canada at the 1997 World Championships. But she always returned to men’s hockey, which led her to short stints with the Bakersfield Fog of the WCHL and the Central Texas Stampede of the Western Professional Hockey League.

“I enjoy the men’s game a lot more,” Dube said. “It’s a different style game. It’s a harder game, a faster game. That’s what I grew up playing, so that’s what I like.”

Dube’s relationship with the Canadian national team began to sour in 1998 when she broke her collarbone and had to sit out nearly a year. She went back to men’s hockey, playing nearly two years in various leagues in Germany and North America, before giving the women’s game one last shot, hoping to play in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

It turned out to be a frustrating experience.

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“When I went back, I was told that I might be the best goaltender there but I won’t make the team,” Dube said. “No matter what I did on the ice, I still will not make the team.

“It was tough not to be there, winning a gold medal, when I know that with my abilities, I should have been there.... But I understand and appreciate the honor that I’ve had in being able to play for my country. I won gold medals with Canada.”

But when Dube again set her sights on men’s hockey, , no one was knocking on her door. In fact, no one was even taking her calls.

She turned to the Internet and eventually contacted Rick Adams, co-owner and managing partner of the Ice Dogs.

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“I was very impressed with her tenacity,” Adams said. “She seemed to be having a hard time getting an opportunity ... because of her gender. I told her that I would give her an opportunity but it would be done purely based on merit and, ultimately, it would be [Kaminsky’s] decision if she made the team.”

Dube sent a tape to Kaminsky, who liked what he saw and invited her to camp.

“I phoned and phoned so many people and heard, ‘No, no, no!’ so many times,” Dube said. “But I didn’t give up.” *

Thanks to her previous experiences on men’s teams, Dube has adjusted well to her new team. She dresses in a separate room at the Long Beach Arena and before or after her teammates on the road.

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“It’s an adjustment for everybody,” Buzak said. “You have to be a little bit more aware of what you’re doing, in regards to running around and being a yahoo. But she’s really great because she’s used to it. Nothing really bothers her.... She makes it quite easy for all of us in the locker room.”

Although Dube does not get to suit up for every game, she hasn’t been discouraged about her lack of playing time and treats every practice as a new challenge. She is appreciating the moment and so is her family.

“There’s been many discouraging times but she’s never lost her interest,” said Dube’s mother, Anne Marie. “She really loves hockey and I’m so happy with the coach and the owner who have accepted her, finally. Even though she’s not getting any ice time now, she’s so happy being there. This is what she’s always wanted.”


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