Guys like Wade Dubielewicz.
He spent about eight weeks on Long Island last season and got into seven NHL games. Even though Dubielewicz had no illusions of becoming the team’s starter this season, DiPietro’s contract all but guarantees that he’ll never hold that job – barring something unforeseen like a serious injury to DiPietro.
But Dubielewicz, a 28-year-old who grew up in Invermere, B.C., is far from bitter about the situation.
In fact, he sees DiPietro’s continued success as the key to getting him out of his current spot in the American Hockey League.
“For me, the better Rick does, the more chance I have to be his backup,” Dubielewicz said this week during the AHL all-star festivities. “I think if they’re 100-per-cent confident in Rick, they’d have no problem sending a rookie in to be his backup.
“Until he’s that guy, they’re going to want someone in there with experience.”
The guy with experience is currently Mike Dunham, a veteran of nearly 400 NHL games.
As the backup to DiPietro, he occupies the spot Dubielewicz hoped he might be filling this season.
It was his until the Islanders signed Dunham in the days leading up to training camp.
“Nothing was happening throughout the whole summer until the last week so I was starting to actually get excited,” said Dubielewicz. “I wanted to protect myself by being realistic about it, but . . .
“What can you do?”
You can start by playing well in the minors, which is exactly what Dubielewicz has done.
He’s 14-4-4 this year for a Bridgeport Sound Tigers team that is hovering around .500. Dubielewicz is also sporting a spiffy .930 save percentage.
A positive attitude has worked wonders.
“If you go down and pout and you don’t play well, where does that get you?” said Dubielewicz. “That gets you nowhere.”
Besides, he’s an unrestricted free agent at season’s end and has his future to think about.
While leaving the Islanders organization to pursue opportunities elsewhere seems on the surface like it might be the best thing to do, Dubielewicz doesn’t see it that way.
He feels a certain sense of loyalty to a team that signed him as a free agent in 2003 after he graduated from the University of Denver. Dubielewicz is relatively small at five-foot-10 and was never drafted by an NHL club.
“They’ve seen me grow as a player and as a person,” he said of Islanders management. “When they did give me a chance it was special. Obviously I’m not the prototypical hockey player or goalie, I’m kind of unassuming most of the time.”
Dubielewicz has a lot of respect for Isles GM Garth Snow, the team’s former backup goalie who retired during the off-season to move into the front office.
The two spoke “at length” over the summer about Dubielewicz’s role and Snow was up front about the fact he wasn’t guaranteed the backup role this year.
Interestingly, it was an injury to Snow towards the end of the 2003-04 season that gave Dubielewicz his first break. During a game in Philadelphia, Snow pulled his groin and Dubielewicz was put in for the final two periods.
Dubielewicz managed to keep the division-leading Flyers at bay as the Islanders came back to win the game.
“It was outstanding,” said Dubielewicz. “What a thrill.”
He’s played nine NHL games in total and hopes there will be many more in his future.
Dubielewicz never doubted that he’d find himself playing in the NHL, even when he was cut by the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds as a 17-year-old.
“It was never out of the question. I always thought I would,” he said. “I don’t know if that was unrealistic – well, obviously it wasn’t, to this point – but my friends thought I was crazy. I believed I could do it. If anyone told me I couldn’t, I just wouldn’t listen.
“And here I am, knocking on the door.”