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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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No National Hockey League defenceman has scored 30 goals in a season since Washington's Mike Green potted 31 in 2008-09, but Matt Dumba believed he could challenge that number this season.

After all, the Minnesota Wild blueliner scored 12 goals in 32 games during an injury-shortened 2018-19 campaign. That's a 31-goal pace.

But through 69 games this year, Dumba scored just six goals.

"To be honest, looking back on it, it's been a tough year," he said. "You don't realize how hard it is to come back from an injury of that extent."

Dumba sustained a torn pectoral muscle in a fight with Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk on Dec. 15, 2018 that required season-ending surgery.

"I put so much work and effort into rehabbing my pec and shoulder and getting this whole arm strong that it took away from some of the other stuff I usually do in the summer skills-wise," Dumba revealed.

Dumba endured a 33-game goal drought that extended from Nov. 12 to Feb. 4 as Minnesota struggled to stay in the Western Conference playoff race.

"At certain times, I felt like I was working a little too hard and kind of gripping the stick a little too hard," he said.

But Dumba, like his team, showed resilience. After starting 4-9-0 during a road-heavy October, the Wild were making a strong push to salvage their season when the NHL hit pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I feel like I was starting to find my groove in the second half," Dumba said. "I started to calm down and let the game come to me. I felt my game was pretty tight for the last while there."

Minnesota was just a point out of a playoff spot when play was halted on March 12.

"That sucked, because it was kind of coming full circle," Dumba said.

The 25-year-old remains as ambitious as ever.

"I missed my goals [for this season], but it's not the end of the world," he said. "Hopefully I have a long career and I can still shoot for some of those goals and create new ones as well."

During a Zoom interview with TSN from his home in Calgary, Dumba explained how the Wild got on track after Dean Evason replaced Bruce Boudreau as head coach on Feb. 14. Dumba also opened up about a charitable cause that is close to his heart. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

The Wild went 8-4-0 after the coaching change. What led to the surge?

"Nothing against Bruce, but I think a change just needed to be made, and having a stern voice and a guy like Deaner was awesome for our group. He was holding guys accountable and just pushing us. That transition he had from assistant coach to head coach, he just knew the team so well and guys were able to talk to him and feel comfortable. That's why you were seeing our best game."

How is Evason different than Boudreau?

"Just the intensity that Dean brings. Also, his outlook on how we play the game. He lets you make plays and try to be as creative as you can [while] supporting the puck. All he asks is if you turn the puck over or make a mistake that you work as hard as you can to get back to your spot and take accountability for that, because you will see it the next day in video. It's not really to bash anyone, but it's just to point it out so we can all grow and learn together so that was another cool thing. Our team was just building up and building up and then it got put on hold, so I think guys on our team are very optimistic and would like that opportunity to get to the playoffs."

Are you optimistic, pessimistic or unsure about the season resuming?

"Just unsure. I see all the sides. I understand why people are pushing so hard to get it back and also the other side with health services and not wanting to rush into anything or put anyone at risk. So, it's just kind of confusing. You kind of jump back and forth every day and just try to stay sane and not think about it too much."

How are you staying busy?

"I'm trying to put as much into my days as I can. We got a new dog, so she's been keeping us busy, and also the golf course just opened up around here, so trying to book some tee times and get out fishing whenever I can. Been trying to get into a bit of a routine. I wake up, have my coffee and sit in my hot tub for a bit and then a workout. So, you try to enjoy it, try to enjoy this time, try to build some type of routine."

How do you maintain good mental health?

"That's the tough thing right now and that's why I've built some routine into my day ... as a hockey player, we're built into that [routine of], ‘You got to be here at a certain time, you can't be late for meetings, practice every day, you got video sessions, workouts.' So without that you’re kind of a little lost. So, for me, routine really helps."

If games resume it will likely be without fans. What would that be like?

"Ah, man, that'd be something else. Definitely would change the game from a momentum [perspective]. Our fans in Minnesota, they can really get going, especially come playoff games, so that's something that I think will be a big change for a lot of the guys. It'd be a weird feeling. It'd be a weird feeling scoring a big goal and then just [hear] crickets in the stands. Yeah, I don't know. You’ll have to build your energy, that's for sure."

One idea being considered is having teams sequestered in hub cities away from their families for potentially three or four months. Would that be a challenge? 

"Yes, especially for guys with kids. That'd definitely be hard to be pulled away from your family at this time. But also, as professionals, we'd be able to do it ... there's only [limited regular season] games left and then playoffs, so half the teams aren't even in it and get to go home after a couple weeks."

With so much time off, some guys are thinking about the big picture and the sport in general. If you could change one thing about hockey, what would it be?

"I'd probably take the trapezoid out and just let the goalies freewheel again. I think that could speed up the game, make it a little more interesting and take some of the pressure off defencemen."

You are a big supporter of the ACES (Athletes Committed to Educating Students) charity in Minnesota. The mission is to help reduce the academic achievement gap and improve the likelihood of success for low-income students. What drew you to this cause?

"What drew me to that cause is just my mom always harping on me about school when I was younger. I couldn't really do anything outside or go play with my friends or be on the rink unless I finished my school work. So, that was just a part of my upbringing. To see these kids and how there is such a gap between the public-school system and private schools, where these schools are within the city, you know, to bridge that gap is essential. So, [helping] these kids is why I've joined up with ACES. They're coming from tough situations and don't have all the guidance that they need. The volunteers at ACES, just from me watching as an outsider, it's awesome to see how they interact with them and how they can relate to these kids and put them on a path that doesn't set them up for failure, because with the current system that's what’s happening to them. They're being trapped and I just don't think that's right."