Masters: Dumba finally gets world junior chance

Mark Masters

12/18/2013 9:51:11 AM

COPENHAGEN - They were the two toughest moments in Mathew Dumba's young hockey career.

"I really wanted to make this team," a glassy-eyed, 17-year-old Dumba said back in December of 2011 when he was cut by the Canadian national junior team. "It was hard for me to wake up this morning and pack my stuff up. It's emotional, but I'll get through it, but just the experience was great. I had trouble sleeping for sure, I was up every hour and it was just one of those things. It's on your mind constantly. It's tough to go through."

One year later he was back in front of the cameras and microphones as one of the final cuts.

"I thought I played alright the first two games," an 18-year-old Dumba said then. "I felt I played pretty good the last one. It's tough; it's a tough team to make. I'm disappointed, but I understand at the same time."

A trip to the world junior championship was so close and yet so far.

WATCH: That's Hockey profiles Dumba

"Those were my first two times being cut so it was kind of an eye-opener for me, but made me a better player and made me who I am today," said Dumba, who will play a key role on Canada's team this year. "It's tough. Even as a 17-year-old your expectation is to go into camp, play your best and hopefully make the team and that's what I thought I did. Just unfortunate the last two years. Hopefully this year's my chance. I have a great opportunity and I'm just trying to seize it."

"Any time any player goes through that, for two straight years, it's always difficult on you and it leaves, maybe, some scars on you," said Brent Sutter, head coach of the Canadian junior squad, who also coached Dumba in Red Deer of the Western Hockey League.


Dumba's spot on this year's Canadian junior team was in jeopardy not because he was on the roster bubble, but because he was in the NHL. The 19-year-old, picked seventh overall by Minnesota in 2012, was struggling to crack the lineup consistently so the Wild loaned him to Hockey Canada.

"Even though I felt I should be in the lineup it's all based on what the coaches think and what their choices are so as a younger guy I've just kept with the workouts and the skates and did everything I could to get back in there," said Dumba, who has played 13 games this season, but hasn't suited up since Nov. 23. "I'm fortunate enough to have this opportunity and come here and maybe have a lot more minutes than I'd have in Minnesota."

Dumba is averaging 12:26 of ice time a game with the Wild.

"My emotions were a little mixed," he admitted, "you know, you want to be in the NHL and playing every night, but the reality was I wasn't and it's awesome to be here and I know I'll have an awesome experience here."

"I can't tell you what the conversation was that Minnesota had with Matt when they told him they would assign him to the world junior team," said Sutter, "but I'd like to think Matt was pretty excited about that and the fact that now, in his third year, he gets that chance."

Dumba insists the feedback from the Wild has been positive.

"They really liked my play and thought I was strong as of late. This was purely based on what they thought was best for me and going out and getting that extra experience."

The experience in the NHL so far this season has certainly been beneficial to Dumba's evolution.
"The consistency day in and day out," said Dumba when asked what has stood out. "They come to practice every day and guys are on their game. You don't really see a guy have a bad game. At most, he has an OK game and he gets better the next game. It's just that consistency. That's the biggest thing I've taken away from being a pro."

The Regina native has had an opportunity to watch Ryan Suter, the NHL's ice time leader at 29:37 a game, up close.

"I think the other night he may have played 35 minutes or something," Dumba said. "I was checking the box score. It's crazy watching those guys and how they play so many minutes at such an elite level. I think it's crazy. I got pretty good role models there."

And those role models had a message for Dumba as he departed for the world juniors.

"All the Canadian guys said, 'Bring back the gold,' but the Americans had a bit of a different conversation with me," Dumba recalled with a chuckle.

Canada will wrap up the round robin with a game against the United States on New Year's Eve.


It's possible Dumba wouldn't be at this point without the influence of Sutter, who twice led the Canadian juniors to gold in 2005 and 2006.

"He's played a huge role, especially last year," said Dumba. "He really pushed me to the limit and made me more reliable, more responsible in my own zone and all over the ice in terms of understanding the game and being an elite player in all areas of the ice."

Asked to describe Sutter in one word, Dumba pauses for a few second, laughs, and says, "intense."

"I think we both know each other so he knows what I can bring and I know what he expects so I think everything will got smooth."

As for Sutter, the no-nonsense taskmaster allows for a moment of sentimentality when talking about how Dumba will finally get a shot at wearing the Maple Leaf at the world juniors after so much heartache.

"He deserves it," said Sutter. "He's been one of the best defencemen not only in the Western Hockey League, but in our country for the last year. We're leaning on him to be a big part of this team."