CALGARY — The first thing Flames players see when they walk into the Saddledome’s weight room is a signed photo of Dillon Dube.
It was posted a year ago by the training staff as a tribute to the team’s fitness test champ.
“It’s not the prettiest face to look at when you walk in every morning,” laughed the 24-year-old winger. “But I guess we’ll leave it up for this year.”
Indeed they will, as Dube repeated as the fittest Flame earlier this week, edging out veterans Trevor Lewis and Mikael Backlund.
As proud as he is of his poster boy status, it comes at a cost.
“The guys let me hear about it, that’s for sure, for having my picture up there, but mostly because of the quote the trainers picked for it: ‘success isn’t accidental,’” he said of the ammunition often used for friendly fire.
“I don't love it. I hear that quote 100 times a year from guys letting me know.”
Count Darryl Sutter as one of the few who won’t be giving Dube the gears for following through on demands the team improve its fitness.
Sutter has harped on how shocked he was at the poor fitness levels of the team when he rejoined the organization in March, 2021.
The coach sent every player home that summer with orders to focus on improving fitness levels, a mantra he repeated after last season as well.
“We’re significantly better than last year and last year we were significantly better than the year before,” said Sutter.
“Dillon’s been a leader in that regard since he got here.”
While Dube respects, listens and learns to the team's veterans, he takes great pride in helping set an example for others fitness-wise, putting him in such good stead in the dressing room.
“Our team is not worried about who is in the Top 3, it’s just important that everybody is performing and getting a little better,” he said.
“That’s the biggest compliment to our trainers and the programs they send out.”
The product of nearby Cochrane, Ab., Dube has chosen to stay in Calgary every summer to work out under the guidance of the Flames' director of sports performance, Ryan van Asten and assistant strength and conditioning coach, Rick Davis.
They’ve helped the 5-foot-11, 185-pound winger get bigger and stronger annually, as was his mandate since being drafted by the Flames in the second round in 2016.
So what does it all mean, other than inviting chirps from his teammates?
“The biggest thing is it gives you a lot of confidence at the beginning of the year that you put the work in,” said Dube, who had career highs last year with 18 goals and 32 points in 79 games.
“I just wanted my numbers to get a little better than last year. RVA has the fitness numbers from when I was 18 until now, and every year they have improved.”
Sutter says one of the keys to this season will be in his group of 23-to-28 year-olds who had career years, taking another step forward this season.
“I want to be the best player I can be for the team no matter where they play me,” said the junior scoring sensation.
“You’ve seen throughout the years I’ve been all over: centre, left wing, right wing, first to fourth line. I need my game to excel in any role because we have a lot of moving pieces. I have to be ready for any one.”
Dube started camp Thursday on the third line with Backlund and Blake Coleman, playing a role the versatile forward is comfortable in.
What some may wonder is if he might be able to eventually blossom into the second-line right winger this organization is so desperately seeking to find.
“I’m comfortable moving him anywhere,” said Sutter. “We moved him onto the penalty kill last year and want to keep moving him forward."
“From February on, and in the playoffs, Dillon was a very good player for us. He’s a versatile kid and as he gets older and more mature, everything in his game takes another step. Those are the key guys for our team. We have to see improvement from those players as we move forward.”
WORLD JUNIOR QUESTION
One thing Dube was certainly ready for Friday was a question about his time with the Canadian junior team he captained in 2018, which has come under scrutiny following sexual assault allegations made in a lawsuit filed in London, Ont. Hockey Canada settled the lawsuit earlier this year but the story has since drawn national attention, leading to calls for change at the sport's highest levels. The NHL is independently conducting an investigation into the incident.
“I’ve cooperated in any way possible and will continue cooperating,” he said.
“I’ve done everything I can to cooperate.”