Manhattan is about as far as you can get from Alaska, yet to Anchorage native and New York Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky, they’re both considered home.
“It’s certainly been a bit of a whirlwind,” said Dubinsky of his career path. “I wasn’t a real high-profile player, but I got some opportunities and tried to make the most of them.”
Eight years ago, Dubinsky, 24, was averaging a point per game for the Alaska All-Stars. His original goal was to play college hockey, at his hometown University of Alaska Anchorage or some other school. That all changed, however, when he attended training camp with the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League, originally just an effort to gain some ice time.
“I didn’t expect to make the team, and then I realized the opportunity I had,” he recalled. “I just wanted to be a hockey player, and there were some educational opportunities as well, which made it easier.”
He also decided it would be beneficial to follow in the footsteps of fellow Anchorage native and future Rangers teammate Scott Gomez, who starred in the WHL before moving on to the pros.
Brandon Dubinsky #17
New York Rangers
Draft Status: Selected by the New York Rangers in the second round (60th overall)
USA Hockey History: A member of the 2008 and 2010 U.S. National Teams competing in the IIHF World Championships. In 2008 in Halifax, he scored three goals in four games. In 2010 in Germany he scored 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) in six games.
Dubinsky toiled four seasons with the Winter Hawks before he graduated to the American Hockey League’s Hartford Wolf Pack in the spring of 2006 for the Calder Cup Playoffs. He spent most of the 2006-07 season with Hartford, while going scoreless in a six-game audition with the Rangers in his NHL debut.
The next year he was in New York for good, and registered 40 points in 82 games before adding eight points in 10 Stanley Cup Playoff contests.
Dubinsky collected 41 points for the Rangers the following year, and later scored three goals in four games for the United States at the IIHF World Championships in Canada as he wore the USA jersey for the first time ever.
“To get the honor of representing your country in a world tournament is pretty special,” Dubinsky said. “You want to make it far in the [Stanley Cup] playoffs, but if that doesn’t work out, you love getting that [USA] call.”
He managed to record a career-high 20 goals and 44 points to go with a plus-9 rating last winter, despite missing 13 games due to a broken hand. He also scored five game-winning goals, but the Rangers were eliminated from playoff contention on the final day of the regular season.
“We have to be ready to play every night, and treat every point as precious,” said Dubinsky of the 2010-11 campaign. “We know firsthand what that’s like; but I really like what we’ve got. I feel good about our team, and it’s a matter of just being consistent and staying focused.”
Dubinsky also skated at the 2010 IIHF World Championships in Germany, where he tallied three goals and set up seven others in six outings. He’d like to have a shot at the Olympics in 2014 in Russia, when he feels he’ll be at the peak of his career.
“I think that would be the ultimate goal, to play for your country on the biggest stage in the world,” he admitted. “It would be one of my biggest goals and thrills.”
So is serving as a role model back home along with other NHL Alaskans such as Gomez, Matt Carle and Nate Thompson.
“We’d like to make the minor program better and produce more NHL players,” said Dubinsky, who summers in Anchorage.
“The message we try to get across is to keep working hard and focus on your dreams. A group of us have made it, and it can come true.”
hometown: Albany, N.Y.
Courtney Burke admits that she hated hockey rinks when she was younger. She was dragged along with her family to her brother Patrick’s games every weekend, and when her mother asked repeatedly if she wanted to play, she always refused.
Finally, when Burke was about 6 years old, she decided to try out a few lessons and join her brother out on the ice.
Skating lessons soon turned into skating drills, and after a while, she was playing on the all-boys teams in the Troy-Albany area of New York.
Years later, the 16-year-old is a poised, puck-carrying defenseman who competed on the U.S. Women’s Under-18 Select Team that swept Canada in the three-game 2010 Women’s Under-18 series in Lake Placid, N.Y.
In addition, this past April, she led her Shattuck-St. Mary’s team to the 2010 USA Hockey Tier I 16 & Under National Championship, ending among the tournament leaders in scoring.
For a young woman who once refused to play hockey, Burke cannot even imagine what her life would be like without the game.
“It’s just something that I love,” Burke said. “If I take even a week off from hockey after playing for awhile, I miss it.”