Just say, "Dubie." Feels good, doesn't it? Maybe brings
a smile to your face?
For most of his 28 years, size, or his lack thereof, has mattered
tremendously to Islanders goaltender Wade Dubielewicz. He's listed at 5-10 and
180 pounds, but it's hard not to wonder if those measurements were taken
standing on his skates with all his gear on. He doesn't fill out the net the
way many NHL goaltenders do, which is a big reason Dubielewicz has spent most
of the past four seasons at the Isles' Bridgeport farm club in the AHL.
But in the last week of the NHL regular season, no one stood taller than
Dubie, who was named the league's No. 1 star after four straight wins,
including two shootouts, to get the Islanders into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
With starter Rick DiPietro sidelined by a concussion and backup Mike Dunham
fighting the puck, the Isles were forced to turn to Dubielewicz when they were
on the brink of elimination.
Suddenly, he has become an inspiration with his play, the size of his heart
and his sunnyside-up personality. The only hint of irritation he's shown since
being thrust into the Islanders' spotlight came after the 3-2 shootout win
over the Devils on Sunday that clinched a first-round playoff berth against
Someone asked how much it meant to a guy who was supposed to be in
Bridgeport, and Dubielewicz said: "If you guys would quit writing that I'm a
career minor-leaguer, it wouldn't be so bad. Really, I'm only four years out of
college, and I've never really had the opportunity to do anything at this
level. So when this chance came, I wanted to make the most of it. For personal
reasons, no question, but mostly for this team. I hope this is the start of
something special, but who knows?"
It's very special now. Islanders coach Ted Nolan yesterday said Dubielewicz
is the likely starter for Game 1 against the Sabres tomorrow night at HSBC
Arena in Buffalo. Asked what he can tell Dubielewicz to make sure he's not
overwhelmed by the occasion, Nolan laughed and said: "Dubie's just got to make
sure he stays Dubie. Just enjoy what he's doing."
See? Dubie has charmed the locker room, as well as the fans and media. Of
course, he wouldn't be so charming if he couldn't play. But since he's proven
himself, his light-hearted approach has infiltrated a team that sees itself as
fitting the same underdog role that Dubielewicz has worn so well his whole life.
"The guy has nothing to lose," forward Ryan Smyth said. "He just goes out
and plays. He's not a very big goalie, but he's very flexible and gives us that
chance to win. He's gotten us this far with what's gone on. Obviously, Ricky
is a huge part of the Islanders with what he's done in the regular season. It's
all about the chances and opportunities, and he's taken full advantage of it."
After only 17 career NHL appearances, Dubielewicz now has the job of trying
to shut down the NHL's highest-scoring team. It means a lot to a guy from
Invermere, British Columbia, who was signed only because an Islanders scout who
went to the University of Denver to check out defenseman Ryan Caldwell
couldn't overlook the little goaltender.
"I don't know how many guys actually get to start a game in the Stanley Cup
playoffs," Dubielewicz said. "So I'm going to cherish it, and I'm going to try
to take full advantage of it. Hopefully, we can compete and get a win.
Anything can happen after that."
The Islanders' goaltending situation could become a bit awkward over the
next few days because DiPietro skated on his own yesterday and is hoping to be
cleared to play before this series is very old. Game 2 on Saturday is not out
of the question, though Game 3 on Monday is a more likely target.
Dubielewicz understands the situation, especially where a goaltender with a
15-year contract is concerned. "Let's be real," he said yesterday after
practice. "He's the franchise player. He's a world-class goalie, and when he's
in the net, we've got a better chance to win."
Recalling the Islanders' last playoff series in 2004 against eventual
champion Tampa Bay, Dubie said he thought DiPietro played as well as any
goaltender in the playoffs except for the Lightning's Nikolai Khabibulin, who
recorded three shutouts in that series to one by DiPietro. So Dubielewicz's ego
is in proportion to the rest of his body.
But until someone tells him to step aside, Dubielewicz will do everything
in his power to come up big against the Sabres. Explaining how he makes up for
his small body, Dubielewicz said: "I play fairly aggressive. A guy that's two
or three inches taller can play three or four inches deeper in the net. At the
same time, it makes sense that I'm a little bit quicker than a big guy.
"And I've always been told by coaches that I do an excellent job of reading
the play. The brain between my ears is probably my best asset. I've really got
to think the game and be ahead of the play somewhat."
Dubielewicz has one advantage in that he faced the Sabres just 12 days ago.
The score was 5-1 after the first period when he replaced Dunham, who had been
the victim of a series of atrocious defensive breakdowns. "I was scared," said
Dubielewicz, who gave up just one more goal in two periods. "I didn't want to
go in. It looked like a summer shinny game. That was almost rock-bottom for us."
Dubielewicz started the next night in a 5-2 loss to Ottawa in which he
saved 42 of the 46 shots he faced. Then he played brilliantly in a 3-2 shootout
win over the Rangers, stopping Jaromir Jagr at the end of the shootout with
the same poke check he used to stop the Devils' Sergei Brylin on Sunday to put
the Islanders in the playoffs. Throughout the Islanders' late charge to the
playoffs, Dubie maintained his sense of humor and seemed utterly unflappable in
the face of the pressure.
He admitted to having a case of nerves before the final game against the
Devils, but it was interesting to watch him skating around in his own end
during stoppages, checking the crowd and generally looking as if he didn't have
a care in the world.
"It keeps you in a good mood and happy," Dubielewicz said. "You see kids
smiling, and it's fun."
Why are they smiling? Can't help it. Everyone pulls for the little guy.
Name: Wade Dubielewicz.
Height: 5-10. Weight: 180.
Uniform number: 34.
Born: Invermere, British Columbia.
Acquired: Signed by the Islanders as an undrafted free agent out of the U.
of Denver on May 25, 2003.
Career record: 7-4-1 with a 2.34 goals against average.
Finest moment: Stopping Devils forward Sergei Brylin in a shootout to give
the Islanders a 3-2 victory and send his team to the playoffs.
Worst moment: Allowing a goal to Devils forward John Madden with
nine-tenths of a second left that nearly cost his team a playoff berth.
Postseason record: None.
Strange but true: Made his NHL debut for the Isles on March 24, 2005, when
he replaced an injured Garth Snow, who is now the general manager.
Basking in the Mask
The goalie mask worn by Wade Dubielewicz has attracted considerable attention
since he won four straight games to lead the Islanders into the Stanley Cup
playoffs. It was designed by Sweedish artist David Gunnarsson and is titled
"Magic Moments of Islanders."
1) Two historic Islanders scenes are depicted on either side. One is a
rendition of a Paul J. Bereswill's Newsday Photograph of Denis Potvin hoisting
2) The other is a likeness of David L. Pokress' photo of Bobby Nystrom after he
scored the overtime goal to beat the Flyers for the Islanders' first Cup in
1980. The lower part of the mask protecting the jaw has "Dubie" written across
3) The most controversial aspect for many Islanders fans might be the picture
on top of the "Fisherman" logo that was dropped after an outcry of protest.
Referring to the traditional Long Island landmark, Dubielewicz explained, "I
was tired of lighthouses." But he wished the Fisherman had come out looking a
4) On the plate in back is a picture of the "Star Wars" character Yoda. "I
don't really look like a goalie," said the 5-10 Dubielewicz, "and Yoda doesn't
look like a Jedi Warrior." Also on the back are the initials of Dubielewicz's
wife and child. - GREG LOGAN