Dubinsky may swagger his way to stardom

Hawk forward has big-time skills and charisma to match

Humility and hockey go hand-in-hand, and Canadian players seem to have perfected that ho-hum, aw-shucks mentality.

Then you have Alaskan Brandon Dubinsky, who might have an air about him somewhat proportionate to the size of the 49th state. You watch 'Dubs' play, and you notice his presence and realize that Portland Winter Hawks coach Mike Williamson has quite the spitfire on his hands.

'Glint in his eye,' Williamson says. 'A swagger. Very confident, very outgoing. Lots of energy.'

Yes, Dubinsky's light can stay lit as long as a summer day in his native Anchorage.

'So much energy and confidence that sometimes he goes overboard,' Williamson adds. 'He doesn't try to come across that way, but sometimes he comes across a little abrasive. But if you take away those qualities, you take away so much of what makes him a special person.'

The precocious cub has matured into Portland's best forward. He has eight goals and 15 assists, both team highs. On Saturday, he potted the game-winner in overtime as Portland beat Spokane 3-2.

Dubinsky had eight goals and 18 assists in 44 games last year, his rookie season. The 17-year-old grew 2 1/2 inches and put on about 15 pounds in the offseason, and he has his eyes on the NHL draft next June.

By the end of his Western Hockey League playing days, he could easily top 6 feet; his brother stands 6-5 and he grew late. The spunk, skills and potential for more height and weight make Dubinsky an intermediate prospect, listed as about sixth- or seventh-round NHL material initially.

He could be a steal like former Winter Hawk Paul Gaustad, another late bloomer.

'I've set my standards and goals high, because it's my draft year and I wanted to make an impression early, get off to a good start and keep it going,' Dubinsky says.

The Winter Hawks have young and talented players waiting to play next year, and none better than Dubinsky. At 5-11, 180 pounds, he plays center and already has Williamson calling him a potential 'top-end' WHL player.

Anchorage has produced its share of good junior and pro players, the best probably being Scott Gomez of the New Jersey Devils. Dubinsky's father coached Gomez in the player's youth hockey days, and Dubinsky got to spend ample time around the playmaker who later played for the Tri-City Americans in the WHL.

Dubinsky has some of Gomez's pass-first game Ñ he's a pretty passer who can score when given the chance.

'Yep, very similar,' Williamson says. 'Slippery, with deceptive speed. Great puck skills. Anticipation and awareness are incredible. Looks like he's got an extra eye, or extra set of eyes.'

The Winter Hawks chose Dubinsky in the 2002 Bantam draft. He passed on the chance to go the college route Ñ the WHL has been losing many prospects to college Ñ after attending camp and getting an opportunity to join the team. Portland General Manager Ken Hodge and Williamson told Dubinsky and his father that he eventually could be an impact player in the league.

'I was leaving Alaska no matter what,' says Dubinsky, a senior who attends Milwaukie High while living in the Portland area. 'It was worth the chance, because I wanted to be a professional hockey player. I got an opportunity to leave young and get my career going. It's a choice I made rather than waiting a couple years.'

In fact, Dubinsky seemed to lose no steam at all in his first tour through the 72-game WHL schedule. He wanted the grind, rather than the 20-odd games in one college season.

'I love playing in hockey games,' he says. 'That's more my thing than practicing. That's what I wanted to do.'

As a youth, Dubinsky played hockey all the time, starting at age 2 1/2. He went to USA nationals five years in a row, playing on teams that made semifinals three times. Alaskan hockey doesn't get much respect, he says, but 'we got a lot of top-end guys up there.'

Gomez tells him to concentrate on training and eating right, echoing what coaches tell him. 'He hasn't learned how hard he has to work off the ice yet, but we might only have two or three in the dressing room who do,' Williamson says.

Dubinsky listens and soaks up all the advice. He wants to do everything possible to play pro one day. After all, he already acts like a pro.

The glint in his eye. A swagger. Very confident.

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