Beads of sweat are running down Matt Dumba’s nose and swan-diving to the floor. The 19-year-old is the last player off the ice for the Minnesota Wild and he’s not even playing tonight. Most of the team didn’t even come to the rink for this morning optional, as the Wild had won the night before in Buffalo. But he’s happy.
“This is what you dream of,” Dumba said. “It’s fun coming to the rink every day, working hard and putting in that effort, doing whatever it takes to stay here.”
Here is the NHL and that is where Dumba would like to play for the rest of the year. The offensive defenseman has logged four games for Minnesota so far, earning his first NHL goal and educating himself amidst a very talented defense corps. In his brief NHL tenure, he’s paid particular attention to fellow right-handed D-man Jared Spurgeon, as well as the elite top pairing of Jonas Brodin and Ryan Suter.
Brodin is actually only a year older than Dumba, but has become an integral part of the Minnesota attack. Dumba is part of a dazzling cohort of youth trying to get the regular status that Brodin has earned, a group that also includes forwards Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle.
But Dumba is the only one of that flock who would have to return to major junior if the Wild deem him too green to stay up full-time. Right now, he’s four games into that famous nine-game tryout that will determine whether or not the franchise wants to burn a year of his entry-level contract. For his part, Dumba’s trying not to think about a return to the CHL.
“It’s there in the back of your mind, but at the same time it’s out of my control,” he said. “I gotta play my game and do everything to stay here. Hopefully in the end, the people who make the decisions see things the way I do.”
Should Dumba get sent back to the Western League’s Red Deer Rebels, he certainly wouldn’t suffer. Red Deer is coached by Brent Sutter, who will also be behind the bench for Team Canada at the world juniors. Having Dumba in Sweden would give Sutter a dynamic force from the blueline who also plays physical and has shown great chemistry in the past with Sault Ste. Marie’s Darnell Nurse, who was taken seventh overall by Edmonton in 2013. As nice as it would be to bring gold back home, Dumba still hopes to be wearing green on Boxing Day.
“That’s still down the road,” he said. “My main goal is to stay here in Minnesota.”
Whether he sticks in the pros this season or heads back to Red Deer, Dumba knows how to put in work –and that’s appreciated on any team.