“Congratulations to my grandson Kyle Dubas who received his Doctorate from Brock University today. Keep moving forward Kyle. Gramma is very proud of you,” Marietta wrote.
“thank you, Gramma D!” Kyle replied, punctuating his response with a pair of black and yellow heart emojis.
While Pittsburgh’s new president of hockey operations is already so accomplished at just 37 years old, Dubas admitted that even he experiences imposter syndrome at times, like he did when finding out that he’d be receiving this honor. He felt like people who usually give these addresses have far more life experience and insight to offer the graduating class, so at first, Dubas wasn’t sure what he wanted to say in his speech.
But in that stretch of time between parting ways with the Maple Leafs and joining the Penguins, Dubas figured out exactly what wisdom he could impart – starting with something his grandfather Walter Dubas told him during a critical time in his life.
Invest in yourself
Kyle’s rise to success in the hockey world is an incredible story, which seemingly started when he got named general manager of his hometown Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds at just 25 years old. But it actually began years before that, and Dubas never would have gotten on that path if he hadn’t bet on himself as a teenager.
Dubas comes from a solid blue-collar sort of upbringing, with Walter telling Kyle and his sisters when they were growing up, “we don’t have a lot of money, but we have a lot of fun.” Walter worked in a steel mill for 40-plus years and also served as volunteer coach of the Greyhounds back in the 1960s, when they were still a Junior A team. He would later take his grandson to games, and that’s where Kyle’s love for the sport really grew.
Kyle began working for the Greyhounds in the seventh grade, starting as a stick boy. After finishing his freshman year at Brock University – where he studied sports management – the plan was for Kyle to return home and work in the front office. He would make a salary of $5,000 for the summer, and supplement that with a job at a local golf course.
But at that point, the hockey gods intervened, as the scout based in the Golden Horseshoe area where Brock University was located ended up quitting … and Dave Torrie, the Greyhounds general manager, approached Dubas.
“He said, you live in St. Catharines [about eight hours from Sault Ste. Marie], you go to Brock, you’ve been a part of our draft process. Would you like to take the scouting position with the team?” Dubas recalled. Of course, he wanted to say yes, but there was one problem.
The pay for the job was $1,500, and in order to scout games, Dubas needed a car. The cost of the vehicle ($2,500) along with insurance for a teenage driver ($3,400) meant Dubas would actually be losing money, a lot of it, if he accepted the position … which made what seemed like an easy choice a much more challenging one, especially when factoring in the student loans Kyle had taken out to get through college.
He tried to save as much as he could that summer before having to make a final decision by August. While some members of Kyle’s family felt like he shouldn’t do it, Walter felt differently. In a conversation that took place on a bench at the end of Walter’s driveway, he imparted some wisdom to Kyle that changed the course of his life forever.
“We were sitting there, and he said, everyone is looking at it as a cost – look at it as a bet. And the way that I have looked at it ever since was that I never looked at that opportunity as a cost, I looked at it as an investment in myself,” Kyle said. “And without that investment and without that advice, I wouldn’t be here today. I wouldn’t have gone on to work for the team, I wouldn’t have gone on to work for the Leafs, and now, not for the Penguins.
“So, the advice that I was given that I would pass on today is that when things come up, and they don’t seem perfect, and you think there may be a cost – either the toll on you or in terms of making less money somewhere – if you think it’s the right opportunity, don’t look at it as a cost. Look at it as an investment in yourself, and what you really want to do.”
Find that thing you love, even when it gets hard
Dubas then offered his twist on the often-used phrase “find a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
While Dubas thinks it’s a great sentiment, it’s also ambitious – because even if you have a job that you’re passionate about, there are going to be days when it absolutely feels like work, and it’s going to be incredibly hard.
So, his second piece of advice would be to find something that you really still love even on those days – when you fail, when you lose, when people tell you that you aren’t very good, when people doubt you. “That’s really what you’re probably meant to be doing,” he said before tying in his first piece of advice, “if you can find that thing that you still love when it becomes really hard, that’s for you. And my encouragement would be to invest in yourself when you get there.”
Support systems are key
Attending Brock University changed Dubas’ life, as it helped open the door to incredible personal and professional opportunities. “Everything that has come from 2007 and the day that I walked out of here as a graduate, I owe to Brock University,” he said.
Walter was there for that milestone moment, which is one of Kyle’s last memories of his grandfather before his health started to decline. “He was dressed up in his suit for one of the final times, and I often think back on that and smile,” Kyle said. But while Walter passed away in 2012 after being diagnosed with dementia, everyone else who was there supporting Kyle on that day are the same people who are still supporting him to this day.
And during those 10 days between jobs, before getting hired by Pittsburgh after leaving Toronto, Dubas realized that whenever he’s failed along the way – “when you lose or you don’t reach your goal, every time you make a bad trade, when you make a bad signing, when you don’t hire the right people” – it’s always the same people who have been there to help and lift him up.
Most notably, his wife Shannon, as the two of them met when they were both students at Brock University back in 2003. “She’s obviously been my primary supporter, she was the one who pushed me to really not sit back and attack every opportunity after the situation in Toronto ended,” Kyle said.
His support system was built at Brock University, so Dubas encouraged all of the graduates to enjoy this time with their people before moving into the next stages of life, together.
“They’re going to be with you a long time. They’re not going anywhere, even though it ends today,” he said. “I remember when we were here, some of my friends were extraordinarily excited; some of them were scared out of their mind about what was next; some were just indecisive. But we’re all still very close now, and it’s something that I think you’ll find as you leave here.”