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Rising to a big occasion

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

top-seeded Buffalo.

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.

Dubie who?

Name: Wade Dubielewicz.

Height: 5-10. Weight: 180.

Uniform number: 34.

Age: 28.

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

the Cup.

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

little meaner.

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

New York Sports