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Sunday Feature: As promised, Tortorella leans on Dubinsky

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Rewind your mind to Wednesday morning.

One quick scan of the internet, the unofficial home to snap judgments and knee-jerk reactions, revealed that Brandon Dubinsky just had to be the most sullen man on the planet.

The reunion of Dubinsky and John Tortorella, the Blue Jackets’ new head coach and the 29-year-old center’s coach back in the day with the New York Rangers, was a hot topic on social media and the traditional media.

Would they be able to coexist in Columbus? Is this a bad marriage already?

Have seat, and take a breath. Find the brakes, and pump them.

The reality is that, some five seasons ago when Dubinsky last played for Tortorella, Dubinsky’s career was in a different place. He was a young kid, looking to carve out his role in the NHL and then, before Tortorella’s final season in New York, Dubinsky was traded to the Blue Jackets in a blockbuster that sent Rick Nash to the Rangers.

It seems to be a common sentiment among players who have played for Tortorella: there is no grey area with the man, and all he wants is to push his players to another level – and sometimes, to levels they don’t know that they had.

Dubinsky was one of those players who, thanks to Tortorella, took major steps forward as a player and it forged a mutual respect between the two.

“He made me a better hockey player, without a doubt. He’s helped my career immensely,” Dubinsky said. “I came (to Columbus) guns blazing and fired up, and a lot of that I owe to him. He got things out of me that I didn’t know I had. He helped my career a lot, and I anticipate he’s going to continue to help my career and a lot of guys’ careers here.

“He’s good at pulling more out of guys, and I think that’s one of his biggest strengths. He’s going to drag everyone into the fight and get the most out of every guy.”

Tortorella and Dubinsky both acknowledged, in no uncertain terms, that they had their ups and downs together in New York – but there are no hard feelings as they begin this next chapter together.

Tortorella described Dubinsky as an integral part of the Blue Jackets, and upon arriving in Columbus Wednesday and making his way down to Nationwide Arena to meet his new team, the first player he spoke with was Dubinsky.

“Dubi and I, in New York, we spent a lot of time together. We went through the process, some good things and some bad things,” Tortorella said. “I need to lean on him. He’s part of that heartbeat of the club. He’s an important man, as far as I’m concerned.”

If the first two games under Tortorella are any indication, the new bench boss certainly plans on heavy involvement from Dubinsky.

He was double-shifted at times on Thursday, and in the second period of that game, Dubinsky moved up to center Brandon Saad and Nick Foligno – and it was by far the Jackets’ most effective line despite a 3-2 defeat. Dubinsky played 21:22 in Minnesota, won 14 face-offs and the team had a 55 percent shot attempts advantage (even strength) when he was on the ice.

Dubinsky scored a power play goal late in the first period that put Columbus ahead before they surrendered two goals in the second period that proved to be the difference.

On Saturday night in Denver, it was more of the same in terms of usage for Dubinsky, but the outcome was far more pleasing.

The absence of Ryan Johansen due to illness meant Tortorella again had to count on big minutes from Dubinsky, and he got that and more. Dubinsky remained with Saad and Foligno, and they were catalysts for a third period rally that resulted in Columbus’ first win of the season.

Dubinsky played a shade under 20 minutes and both Saad and Foligno were around the 15-minute mark. The trio combined for the game-winning goal, eventually scored by Dubinsky, a goal that all five players on the ice had a hand in.

“If there’s one guy I’m familiar with, it’s him,” Tortorella said of Dubinsky. “He’s just a competitor. He was huge at the end with face-offs, blocked shots, and he played in all situations.

“I’m happy for him. He wanted to win this. He wanted to will it, and he found a way.”

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