If you think about it, goalie Wade Dubielewicz may have been the first hero of the post-lockout era.
At 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, the 30-year-old backup – who was picked up on waivers by Columbus when the Blue Jackets were in the midst of an injury crisis – may not seem like the traditional leading man, but he has his place in modern hockey lore.
After all, Dubielewicz was the catalyst of one of the most amazing stretch runs in recent history, culminating in his backstopping the New York Islanders to four straight victories to end the 2006-07 season to overtake the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens for the final playoff spot in the East.
“It was pretty crazy,” he recalled. “That last game against New Jersey (a 3-2 shootout win), when they rested Martin Brodeur – who knows what would have happened if he played, but we took it to them pretty good that night.”
How amazing was it? Well, in designing our playoff preview more than a week earlier (it takes time to put a magazine together, people), we decided to leave the Islanders out – they weren’t mathematically eliminated, but they were done, right? Wrong.
So THN became the official bulletin board material in Long Island that post-season and this year our playoff preview included the Buffalo Sabres, Dallas Stars and Syracuse Bulldogs just in case.
Now, Dubielewicz is set to make history again, this time as the backup in Columbus, where the Jackets are poised to make their first foray into the playoffs. So are there any big-stage jitters in mid-Ohio right now?
“I think we’re confident,” Dubielewicz said. “We haven’t played our best in the past five or six games, but somehow we hung in there and got some points in those games.”
Ah, the ‘loser point.’ It helped the Isles squeak in to the playoffs back in ’07 and has helped sustain the Jackets during recent inconsistent play, but it’s obvious Columbus will roll into the post-season more on the strength of big 60-minute wins over top teams such as Calgary and Detroit than extra-time losses to Tampa and St. Louis.
And according to Dubielewicz, the Jackets also have two big aces up their sleeves – starting goaltender and rookie phenom Steve Mason and veteran Stanley Cup-winning coach Ken Hitchcock.
“I’ve never had a coach so dedicated to the game,” Dubielewicz said.
Indeed, despite the team’s reputation as a bottom-feeder or pretender in its short existence, the current incarnation of the Blue Jackets play with icy-cold determination. Much like the Bruins or Sharks this season, the Jackets are clearly following a Hitchcock master plan when they’re on their game and as soon as the opposition makes a mistake or two, the bear-trap springs.
Columbus will likely march into the post-season as the sixth seed in the West, but for a team that has played so strongly in the second half, ‘underdog’ doesn’t seem like an appropriate term. Nevertheless, for players, the tag is still a near and dear one whenever even tangentially applicable.
“I like being the underdog,” Dubielewicz said. “Pressure-wise, if you have that mentality, it’s easier to let it go out on the ice.”
Going back to that magical Isles run in ’07, even the most optimistic fan knew the New Yorkers would get swamped by the powerhouse Buffalo Sabres in the first round, but Dubielewicz recalls how the path to get into the playoffs steeled the gutsy Isles, even when the odds were against them.
“We knew it would be tough,” he said. “But what we overcame the week before was incredible. We thought anything was possible.”
But after spliting the first two games, the Isles were buffaloed, losing the next three.
I don’t think the Jackets need to worry about suffering the same fate this year.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.