Lucas at Large: Kirk Daubenspeck

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Mark Strobel was visiting with some friends at the Kohl Center when he was approached by someone wearing a minor league hockey jersey. It was not any ordinary jersey. It was a South Carolina Stingrays jersey, a Kirk Daubenspeck jersey, a No. 29.

Strobel almost broke down in tears. "He came up to me and said that he had met Dobber a few times,'' related Strobel, a former UW hockey captain and teammate of Daubenspeck's. "He said he didn't make a lot of money but he wanted to donate to the medical fund. I hugged him.''

Strobel then put on the jersey and posed for some pictures. "Maybe this was the start of the healing process for all of us on the journey that we're going on,'' he said softly.

On Feb. 17, a foggy Thursday morning, Strobel was one of the last people to speak on the phone with Daubenspeck, the former UW goaltender. The 36-year-old  Daubenspeck, a medical equipment sales rep, was on his way to an appointment in Dodgeville when his car collided with a semi-truck.

Daubenspeck suffered severe brain trauma from the accident. "It's imperative to know that he's not in a medically-induced coma,'' Strobel said. "He's in a coma because of the severeness of the brain injury. There have been some positive signs. But people have to recognize it's going to be slow.''

A Badger hockey sweater is hanging from the window in Daubenspeck's room at University Hospital. There are pictures of family and friends. There may be some Grateful Dead music serving as a backdrop. That was his favorite group. And there's a ticket stub from a UW hockey game.

It's Strobel's ticket from the Feb. 19 game between the Gophers and the Badgers. A bunch of the boys - Strobel, Daubenspeck and Jamie Spencer, another former UW captain - were going to meet up. "I told Dobber to give the ticket back to me,'' Strobel said, "when he comes out of this.''

Strobel and Spencer spent the last six days in Madison making sure Daubenspeck's wife, Peggy, who is pregnant, was taken care of. The Daubenspeck's have a 1-year-old son, Axel. A medical fund has been established at the State Bank of Cross Plains. Donations can be made at any of its branch offices.

Strobel, who's also a medical sales rep, lives in Hudson. He plans on returning in March. Until then, he hopes people will keep Dobber in their prayers. "There's hope,'' he emphasized.

The South Carolina Stingrays are planning on selling t-shirts to raise some money for the Kirk Daubenspeck Medical Fund. Daubenspeck is a member of the team's Hall of Fame. Overall, he played in 236 games for three different clubs in the East Coast Hockey League.

Daubenspeck grew up on Madison's eastside. "I was in awe of all the Badger goalies,'' he once said, listing Marc Behrend, Dean Anderson, Terry Kleisinger and Curtis Joseph, his all-time favorite.

After one year at Madison East High School, he went to Culver Military Academy in Indiana. Upon graduation, he was hoping to get a scholarship offer from the Badgers. But they went in another direction and tendered Jim Carey, a much higher-profile prospect.

Rather than accept offers from other schools, Daubenspeck played a year of junior hockey with the Sioux City Musketeers and Wisconsin Capitols. "The sacrifice I made paid off,'' said Daubenspeck, who got a tender from Wisconsin the following season.

As a freshman (1993-94), he was in the shadows of Carey, who summarily left school for the NHL leaving a void that Daubenspeck would fill. Even though he was the No. 1 goalie, he never took anything for granted. "With media and fans, I don't think you're ever done proving yourself,'' he said.

Daubenspeck wound up being an All-American. In his final game, he came up with 75 saves in a four overtime 1-0 loss to Colorado College; a game that lasted five hours and 23 minutes. Daubenspeck loved being in the middle of the action. That same season, he had 62 saves against Duluth.

Daubenspeck always had his teammates back, literally and figuratively. He finished his UW career with what was then a school record 3,517 saves. "There's nights when your instincts click for you,'' he said with modesty that defined his game and life, "and you know where the puck is going to be.''

UW players will a "No. 1" sticker decal on their helmets in honor of Daubenspeck.

"I just want to be remembered as a guy that cared about the jersey he was wearing and would do anything for his team night-in and night-out,'' Daubenspeck once said. "I just always wanted to win every night for the red and white. That's all I've ever wanted to do since I was a kid.''

On Jan. 4, 1997, the Capital Times ran a game story following the UW's 4-3 win over Michigan Tech at the Coliseum. Daubenspeck, who had been in a slump, saved his best for the final period.  Here was the first sentence from that story: "Don't write off Kirk Daubenspeck yet.'' Words to live by.

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