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Dubinsky among Alaska's NHL pioneers

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
The journey from youth hockey to the NHL is a long one. Only a tiny fraction of kids who start out with dreams of playing at the game's highest level actually get there. Each of the roughly 700 current NHL players has his own, unique story about the road to hockey's top league, and for Rangers fans, none are more interesting than those involving current Blueshirts.

Road to the Rangers on, takes readers back in time, giving them a sense of what players went through to make it. Hear the player's story in his own words, in his own voice, as he looks back at all the years leading up to his first NHL game. Get a feel for each player's personality as he talks about unpublicized moments that helped him realize the dream of every young hockey player.

Girardi | Callahan | Boyle | Staal

Brandon Dubinsky Brandon Dubinsky
American hockey players have been having a big impact on the NHL for virtually all of the 30 years since the 1980 "Miracle on Ice". For players from the remote state of Alaska, however, appearing on hockey's biggest stage is a much more recent phenomenon.

It wasn't until Scott Gomez, a first-round pick of New Jersey in 1998, made his Devils debut in 1999 that the nation's 49th state could finally see one of its natives perform in the NHL.

What a difference a decade makes. Just over 10 years after Gomez broke the barrier for Alaskans, there are now seven Alaska natives on NHL rosters, including 23-year-old forward Brandon Dubinsky of the Rangers. Dubinsky joined the elite group of Alaskan NHLers on March 8, 2007, when he made his Rangers debut in a 2-1 win over the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. He reached the Blueshirts on a full-time basis the next fall and is already in his third full NHL season.

Brandon DubinskyToday's NHL generation is making a big contribution to that prestigious list. With three brothers already starring in the NHL, including an outstanding Rangers defenseman who turned 23 on Wednesday, the Staal family of Thunder Bay, Ontario, is ensuring its legacy will be remembered by hockey fans long after the the brothers' playing days are over.

Like a growing number of American players, Dubinsky's path to the NHL came through major-junior hockey. Prior to becoming the last of the Rangers' four second-round picks, No. 60 overall, in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft at Raleigh, N.C., he spent two seasons with the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League. Those seasons molded him into NHL material.

Portland had selected Dubinsky in the fifth round of the 2002 WHL Bantam Draft. At that time, he was a 16-year-old high school student in Anchorage. He fully intended to play college hockey and had little sense that he would ever be a part of the NHL. All of that changed after Dubinsky flew down to Portland in the summer of 2002 to check out his options. The Winter Hawks wanted him on their team, so he chose to follow the major-junior route.

As a WHL rookie, Dubinsky scored only eight goals and 26 points, but he broke out the next season with 30 goals and 78 points to establish himself as a legitimate NHL prospect. By the spring of 2004, NHL Central Scouting had Dubinsky ranked No. 83 on the list of top North American prospects. Elements of their evaluation of him from six years ago still rink true today, as he is referred to as a "fierce competitor", "effective faceoff man" and someone who "does not get intimidated in tough games" and "will retaliate when opponents try to abuse him."

Being drafted by the Rangers at Raleigh, N.C., in was especially meaningful for Dubinsky. His father, Bill, is a lifelong Blueshirts fan who grew up on Long Island. Bill Dubinsky passed his passion for the Rangers on to his sons, and the opportunity to play for his family's favorite team helped motivate Brandon to work even harder in the three years after the draft.

Dubinsky returned to the Winter Hawks for the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons and joined the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack for 11 playoff games before signing his first NHL contract with the Rangers on April 20, 2006. He needed only one additional year of seasoning in Hartford before he was ready for the NHL.

Here is Dubinsky's story, in his own words:

Click on the links below to hear Dubinsky's voice (Windows Media Player is required)
PART 1: Dubinsky's earliest memories of being introduced to hockey.
PART 2: How his dad helped him develop love of the game and Rangers.
PART 3: Remembering his first years playing organized hockey in Alaska.
PART 4: How he viewed the NHL as a kid and realizing he could play there.
PART 5: On why he made the choice of major junior over college hockey.
PART 6: Dubinsky recalls introduction to Portland and major-junior lifestyle.
PART 7: Being rated as a potential high draft pick and going to the Rangers.
PART 8: On his first NHL training camp and first call-up to AHL with Hartford.
PART 9: Being sent to Hartford to begin his first full season in pro hockey.
PART 10: Gettings called up to Rangers for first NHL game in March 2007.

Brandon Dubinsky Brandon Dubinsky Brandon Dubinsky
At 2004 NHL Entry Draft in Raleigh, N.C.
Playing for Portland in 2004-05 season.
At U.S. '05 World Junior evaluation camp.
Brandon Dubinsky Brandon Dubinsky Brandon Dubinsky
Getting set for 2006 Traverse City tourney.
Preseason game at New Jersey in 2006.
Playing for Hartford Wolf Pack in 2006-07.
Brandon Dubinsky Brandon Dubinsky
Playing in first NHL game vs. Islanders on March 8, 2007.
Rirst NHL game at Garden against Carolina on March 11, 2007.
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