Youngster stars at breakout

Tuesday, May 22, 2001 at 1:00am

Nashville Predators goalie Mike Dunham signed autographs. Team captain Tom Fitzgerald presented a clinic. Play-by-play man Pete Weber was there to meet and greet. Willie O'Ree, the first African-American in the National Hockey League, taught a series of clinics.

But the biggest star of NHL Breakout Saturday and Sunday in the parking lot of the Opryland Hotel was Michael Lewandowski, No. 13 in the game program and No. 1 in the hearts of anyone who knows what he is going through.

At the age of 9, Lewandowski has been fighting a battle against cancer that makes scrapping for the puck in the corners a trivial pursuit. Despite being weakened by chemotherapy, which he receives as part of his treatment at the Sloan-Kettering Center In New York City, Michael was in uniform and playing for his Papa John's Predators team. Saturday he scored two goals as his team competed with 99 others in the event which provides street hockey tournament play for teams of all ages and abilities.

"Michael has been undergoing a pretty tough protocol of cancer treatment," said his father, Tom. "He just went through the biggest part of it two weeks ago."

Michael played in Breakout last year, but since that time he has been sidelined. His coach, Dan Bourget, said that even without any practice, he has set the pace for his team.

"Michael is an all-around player, but most of the time he is at forward," said Bourget, who has coached Michael for three years. "The players really can't comprehend what he is going through, but they know he is sick. Everybody is praying for him.

"He has come out for a few practices. His heart is really in it. His mom and dad said he has been really upset that he has not been able to play for us. He has still got it. I told him that even though he is rusty he is better than most guys on the team."

Michael said he really missed playing, but was happy to get the chance again.

"It has just been great," Michael said. "Everybody has been happy to see me back."

Michael, who lives with his family in Hendersonville, started treatments in October. He and his family flew home on the Predators charter flight Christmas Eve from New York City following an overtime victory over the Rangers. For Michael, it was a special Christmas present.

"That was awesome," Michael said. "The players were so nice to me."

Michael, who will be 10 in August, has neuroblastoma, a pediatric cancer that doesn

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