Danielle Dube, 39-year-old mother leads UBC into hockey playoffs

Danielle Dube, UBC's goaltending, firefighting, almost 40-year-old mother of two bounces back from from scary injury to lead the Thunderbirds into the Canada West final.

T-Bird's multi-tasking hockey mom does it all, including bouncing back from a devastating injury

UBC goalie Danielle Dube leads her team into the best-of-three Canada West final against Manitoba starting Friday night at the Doug Mitchell Sports Centre. (UBC Athletics)

Simple labels don't work for Danielle Dube, the 39-year-old UBC hockey goalie and full-time fire-fighting mother of two.

But after a recent brush with a potentially devastating injury perhaps the single most accurate way to describe her is "lucky".

Simple labels don't work for Danielle Dube, the 39-year-old UBC hockey goalie and full-time fire-fighting mother of two. (UBC Athletics)

Two weeks ago Dube was bent over covering the puck when a hard-charging University of Manitoba forward got tangled with a T-Birds defenceman. Both skaters slammed into the top of Dube's head, driving her neck down into her shoulders.

Over a long career  — most of it playing men's hockey — Dube has experienced all the bumps, bruises and broken bones that normally afflict a goalie.

But lying on ice that day in Winnipeg wasn't like anything she felt before, because she wasn't feeling anything at all.

'It was scary'

"It was scary. There was numbness down my arms." recounts Dube. "With my fire-fighting background I had the good sense to stay still."

She lay motionless for 30 minutes until ambulance attendants arrived and carefully secured her on a spine board. Back on the UBC bench, head coach Graham Thomas was fearing the worst.

"Player were coming back relaying information she can't feel her legs, or move her hands or feet yet,'" said he said. "It was scary for everyone."

Head coach Graham Thomas says he feared for the worst when Dube was injured in Winnipeg. (Richard Lam/UBC Athletics)

The next hours were spent in hospital undergoing a battery of tests. And although the diagnosis wasn't good, it was a relief —  two bulged disks in her neck.

"The hospital was great," says Dube. "They knew I had two kids who were probably terrified their mom didn't come home with the team. So the neurosurgeon worked hard to get me out of there as quickly as he could safely."

The following day Dube was given the green light to head home.

Thomas said he fully expected Dube to call it a season at that point. But after taking a few days off Dube decided she could dress as backup for UBC's best-of-three playoff series against Regina.

The T-Birds lost game one 3-0. Afterwards Thomas asked if Dube if she might consider playing in game two.

Danielle Dube joined the UBC hockey team in 2013 after playing men's professional hockey and a number of years on the Canadian National Women's team. (Richard Lam/UBC Athletics)

Back in the game

"I think coach felt that by putting me in it might bring some confidence to the team," she says.

"Part of it was to get them rallied up that I had made a quick recovery from such a serious injury, because I think everyone was still a little scared by it."

That fear quickly turned to awe. Dube earned a 25-save shutout in a 1-0 win to keep the team alive, and then stopped 20 of 22 shots in the deciding game, earning UBC the chance to host the Canada West final for the first time in school history.

"It's the playoffs," shrugs Dube. "Everyone is playing though bumps and bruises."

Thomas has nothing but admiration for his goalie.

"On ice she competes so hard, like she's in her 20s again," he said.

Dube, incidentally, turns 40 on March 10, a few days after Thomas turns 35.

"I never thought I'd be coaching someone older than me," marveled Thomas.

"Coach is flabbergasted that he has a 40-year-old on the team," laughs Dube.

Different kind of hockey mom

Birthday celebrations might take a back seat for both goalie and coach should UBC beat Manitoba — the team that almost ended Dube's season — in the Canada West final series this weekend.

Dube's sons — Camden, 8, and Porter, 10 — will be at the games, cheering their hockey mom in what could be her final T-Bird appearance. She graduates this spring with a psychology degree.

"Psychology has the most online courses," she explained — and her eligibility is ending prematurely because the CIS docked her a year for the time she spent playing men's pro hockey.

"They didn't take that away from Hayley Wickenheiser so I could fight to get a fifth year. But I'm struggling with the thought of, if I did [play] next year would I just be taking courses for the sake of playing? And my kids — as much as they've enjoyed it — they're at the age where they need mom around more."

2016 UBC hockey team. (Richard Lam/UBC Athletics)

In addition Dube says it would be nice to use her summer vacation time earned at the Richmond Fire Department actually during the summer, instead of swapping with co-workers to free up time for hockey.

"The guys at work love it, me trading all my nice July holidays," she says.

Still, the decision to call it a career at UBC won't be easy. Dube says juggling hockey, school, family and job keeps from her from procrastinating, which she claims to be prone to. 

"This is what I've figured out: when I'm this busy I have to get things done."

At the top of the to-do list is beating Manitoba this weekend, which would put UBC in the CIS final tournament for only the second time ever.

It would be a fitting end for such a unique athlete with such a unique university hockey career.

And it might even force that 40th birthday party to be postponed in favour of a bigger celebration.

"Maybe I'll wait until after Nationals to celebrate," she says.

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