By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – South Carolina Stingrays forward Michael Dubuc stands just outside the face off circle, his stick raised high in the air, calling for the puck.
Stingrays center Pierre-Luc O’Brien fakes a shot then slides the puck cross-ice to Dubuc. In one powerful, lightning-fast motion, the rookie winger brings his stick down, catching the puck at just the right instant, sending it hurtling at Florida goalie David Leggio at nearly 100 mph.
Leggio, the ECHL’s top statistical goalie this season, slides over to make the save, but he’s not in time. With little margin for error, Dubuc places the puck in the upper corner of the net, just over the shoulder and glove of Leggio and scores his third goal of the night.
On the bench, Stingrays coach Jared Bednar can only shake his head in disbelief.
“There are not many guys at any level that could have made that shot,” Bednar said. “There are guys in the NHL that can’t do it. Michael was off balance, leaning away from the net and to get that kind of velocity and accuracy on the shot was incredible.”
As a child growing up in Granby, Quebec, Dubuc would spend hours in his backyard shooting pucks on his homemade rink. His father would always repeat the same mantra “shoot through the net.”
It was advice that Dubuc took to heart.
“It doesn’t matter where I am on the ice,” Dubuc said. “If I’m going to take a shot, I’m going to try and put it through the back of the net. That’s all I heard from my father growing up, ‘shoot through the net’ so every time I shoot, I shoot it through the net.”
It’s a strategy that has paid off for Dubuc and the Stingrays this season. With nearly a month left in the regular season, Dubuc has a team-high 35 goals, which is second among all rookies in the ECHL and fourth overall. Dubuc is on pace to become the Stingrays’ first 40-goal scorer since Dave Seitz had 44 goals during the 2001-02 season.
“Michael is a pure goal scorer,” Bendar said. “He’s just knows how to find the back of the net. I think some guys are born with that ability and Michael is one of them.”
Despite being among the top scorers in the ECHL, Dubuc’s rookie season hasn’t been without its issues.
“There are some deficiencies in his game,” Bednar said. “There’s a reason Michael is down in the ECHL and not up in the American (Hockey) League. He’s very good with the puck like a lot of skilled player. It’s away from the puck where he has a problem.”
For the first three months of the season, Bednar chided Dubuc about his game. Dubuc went through a six-game scoring drought in January, which prompted Bednar to take Dubuc off the Stingrays’ top line and demote him to the 10th forward.
“I thought (Bednar) didn’t like me,” Dubuc said. “There was a point in the season when I wasn’t having any fun. We were not winning and I wasn’t scoring. (Bednar) was constantly on me about the way I played and I wasn’t used to it. But after a while I realized that it was for my own good. He was only trying to make me a better player. If I wanted to get to the next level, I was going to have to improve those parts of my game.”
Bednar has no doubt Dubuc can play at the highest level.
“As soon as he improves his game away from the puck he’ll never play in (ECHL) again,” Bednar said. “He’s that good. He has that much potential.”