PHILADELPHIA – Within three days last July, defenseman Matt Dumba signed a two-year extension with the Minnesota Wild worth $5.1 million, which will bridge him through restricted free agency, and celebrated his 22nd birthday. That stretch came two months after Dumba appeared in all 10 games during Canada’s gold-medal run at the 2016 IIHF World Championships in St. Petersburg, Russia, his first tournament with the national men’s team. “Not a bad summer,” he says, before quickly adjusting the report. “Really good summer.”
The 2016-17 season thus far has been more of a mixed bag for Dumba. Scheduled to get scratched by new coach Bruce Boudreau in Minnesota's fourth game, Dumba instead found himself a late lineup addition when Marco Scandella fell ill. An injury to Jared Spurgeon then opened room beside Ryan Suter on Minnesota's top pair, where Dumba logged 20 minutes nine of the next 10 games, a mark he had reached only 19 times over his previous 155.
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During an afternoon off in Philadelphia last week, with his teammates patiently waiting nearby in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton before heading out to lunch, Dumba dined with SI.com on a smorgasbord of topics, beginning with (clearly) the most important: children's sports movies released before Dumba was born.
SI: So, at some point along the line, and I have no idea when because I tried retracing my steps and came up empty, the words “Matt Dumba” and “big fan of the Mighty Ducks movies” stuck in my brain. Accurate?
MD: Definitely growing up, I was a huge fan. My parents had me into the cartoon as well. It was dope. It was sick. Then I obviously had the movies. As I began to learn more about hockey—my dad loved hockey—my favorite two players became [Teemu] Selanne and [Paul] Kariya. It kind of took off from there. I was in Regina at the time, so I got to pick my team. Then once I got to Calgary, I also followed [the Flames].
MD: Yeah? It’s hard to put them in any order. They all tie into together, for sure. The first two are definitely legit though. First two, you can’t beat.
SI: How’s Gordon Bombay as a coach?
MD: Awesome coach. Awesome. Flying V forever.
SI: Favorite player on the fake team?
MD: It’d have to be Charlie [Conway]. I don't know, at one point I was pretending to be all of them playing mini-sticks, or on the outdoor rink. Line up a knuckle puck, spin-o-rama and all of a sudden you’re Kenny Wu. It’s pretty funny. They all have their own traits.
SI: Did D2 make you think that you’d run into more Icelandic hockey players?
MD: Yeah. That, and that they were all mean. I thought they were all just bitter people. No, that’s kind of a funny perception they had on it. It’s old-school. They’re old movies. Really old.
SI: You’re averaging about five minutes more than you did last season. Did you have an idea such a big uptick was coming?
[Note: After skating 22:06 against the Flyers on Nov. 12, Dumba was criticized by Boudreau for “rushing up where he shouldn’t have been” on Philadelphia’s tying goal. He’s logged less than 18 minutes in each of the following three games, but season-wide is still way above his 16:50 average time on ice in ’15-16, and scored the overtime winner against Ottawa the next night, Nov. 13.]
MD: No, but that’s what I hoped for. Coming back here, it turned out that I was fortunate enough to get this off. A couple guys went down, so I just wanted to take full advantage of it. It’s awesome. I got a taste of it, and that’s what I want to do every night, just play my best, do whatever it takes to help the team.
SI: What have you taken away from this small taste, for yourself?
MD: Just confidence. It’s knowing that I can play with the best players in this league, and defend. We’ve been winning as well. All of it going together helps our team a lot, the whole process of developing a winning team for not only the first couple months, but really into the third, fourth, fifth months of the season.
Highs and lows of being an athlete, there’s pressure—so much pressure—every day. Knew I had it in me, knew through what I produced last year, and seeing if I got this opportunity, I thought I could do more and hopefully that’s where it’s leading. It’s about the team, though. I’m contributing my role. That’s the big thing.
It’s a little easier in the sense that there’s a little more flow to the game, you’re not putting as much pressure on you per shift. You’re just going out, doing your role and your job, letting things go from there.
SI: So the less ice time you have, the more pressure you put on each shift?
MD: It’s tough. You don’t want to think like that, but it is… from guys who have been in that situation, it’s harder to get into that rhythm guys talk about. You do feel that pressure. But the guys who know what to do with those minutes, as I’ve learned over the years playing some of those minutes, you’ve got to work with the best of it. You can’t get too crazy, too far out of your game.
SI: Has Ryan [Suter, the Wild’s TOI leader at 27:10] said anything to you about that?
MD: Me and Suts, funny relationship, we just go out and do our jobs and good shift, bad shift, we’re onto the next one.
SI: Did you say funny relationship?
MD: Yeah, he’s an older guy, farm boy. I’m a city boy. I got a little bit of country roots in me. When we talk about everything, it’s kind of weird. He’s got a lot going on. His family, he owns a team in Madison [the USHL’s Capitols], where he’s from. He’s got a lot on the go. I’m just going with it. One of the younger guys on the team, just hanging out and having fun.
SI: What do you remember about [Wild assistant and Hall of Fame defenseman] Scott Stevens from watching him play?
MD: I remember when he put that hit on my boy Kariya. I was mad at him for a while. But he was also one of my favorite players too. Played a really physical game when I was younger and still like to when I get a chance, but it’s definitely harder in the new game. Sick defenseman.
SI: Have you brought up that hit to him yet?
MD: Waiting for the right time.
SI: What have you gotten out of having him on the coaching staff?
MD: He’s really good at just communicating to the guys and breaking it down into smaller things. It’s nice coming back to the bench and hearing his input. He’s been there. He’s done great things. You definitely have to respect that. The wisdom, he’s been around and seen it all.
MD: Yeah, I do. Loved Kanye when I was little. Stay true to yourself. I loved old Kanye. He’s gotten a little crazy over the years, but I like his new music too. He talked about real stuff when he was younger. Albums I grew up on, College Dropout, Graduation, all of those.
SI: Did you ever settle those promises you made to jump in a river with Max Domi and post a running man video with Taylor Hall if enough people retweeted support for Connor McDavid’s NHL 17 cover candidacy?
MD: Well, he lost the thing, so there’s no sense. People didn’t go out and vote. Couldn’t give them what they wanted. When it came down to it, it was the big ticket that it was riding on.
SI: How was that experience at Worlds with those guys?
MD: That was a blast. One of the best hockey experiences I’ve had, probably. It was really cool. Winning, culture, the team was just so close, such a close group within days. It was crazy. Then Russia as well was fun. I would’ve been the first to tell you that I hated Russia. I’d been there before, but after going to St. Petersburg, it totally flipped the script for me. Very professional. They took care of us. It was well done.