by Lisa Brown on 03/13/12 at 12:45 AM ET
With only three games remaining in the Red Deer Rebels’ schedule, the window of opportunity for scouts and fans alike to catch a glimpse of a truly special player before the 2012 NHL entry draft is closing. What you will see if you have the opportunity to watch Mat Dumba play is a gifted puck moving defenceman who is playing big minutes on a team that will hobble across the finish line. Dumba will make the big hits, block the hard shots and make a few of his own. For Dumba the Rebel’s regular season ending is just the first step in what will be a busy and life changing off season.
To say that the injury bug has hit the Rebels this season would be an understatement. More accurately, the team has been plagued by injuries. They have seen players carried off of the ice on stretchers, broken vertebras, torn shoulders, a broken thumb and the list goes on. Amazingly, Dumba has not only managed to remain relatively healthy, but at 17 he has also helped to carry his team to the end of the season both on and off of the ice.
“We haven’t stopped.” Dumba said with a heavy sigh Sunday night following the final game of the Rebel’s three game, three night weekend. “Every night we’ve been going hard and playing pretty hard. It’s been tough on your body, especially your third night playing a game.”
All season, you would often see Dumba play the entire two minutes of a power play and usually a minute or so on either end of the man advantage. Sometimes, you can even see Dumba say no, and wave off any call back to the bench. To this Dumba says that is a mental fatigue more than a physical that demands line changes. Now, it seems that even the mental fatigue may be catching up. In both the game in Red Deer Friday night, and in Calgary Sunday night, I noticed Dumba stuck to more typical 45second to 1 minute shifts. “I guess you could tell tonight that my body was just kind of… not like usual.” Dumba admitted. “I was taking shorter shifts to pace myself through the game because it was a long night and you’ve got to work hard every shift and you can’t use being tired as an excuse. I was doing that as a way to prepare for the next shift.”
Dumba is aware, now more than ever that eyes are on him at any time. Some of those eyes belong to the younger and affiliated players that have come in to fill in some of the gaping Rebels roster holes. Still young himself, Dumba has been mentoring; playing the big minutes and trying to lead by example.
“There are a lot of younger guys who have stepped up to play different roles that they’re not comfortable playing. I guess with the APs now it’s good that they came up, and now they’re learning the ropes and know what it takes to play at the WHL level. It’s good to show them with [your] hard work and your compete level and your commitment to the team where you can be and those guys are learning lots and having fun too.”
When a 17 year old admits to stepping up to take a leading role, you take notice and ask Dumba to expand upon that. “It’s great that everyone can look up to me but at the same time, it’s easy to be a leader in this locker room. Everyone is a leader, everyone leads by example. Wallie [Rebels’ head coach and GM Jesse Wallin] is really keen on making sure that if you want to say something, you’ve got to be working hard and doing the right stuff and then you can say something; it’s about leading by example, you can lead by talking later. Going out there on the ice and working hard and battling and competing and doing the little things is, that’s what I like to do and that’s how I like to lead.”
Knowing that your season is over, knowing that relief is not on the way, and knowing that a number of your star players can only be with you in spirit is not the way that any player would like to finish their season. And yet somehow, the team has dug deep and played inspired hockey. With a skeleton crew of players running adrenaline alone at times, they find the will to stay with every game and have even made comebacks. How and why is simple; this is for June, these games are for the future.
“For us younger guys its how many scouts are in the building every night. Wallie [Jesse Wallin] said there were probably 30 scouts on the one night. For the older guys it’s scouts too. Guys want to make it to that next level and get tryouts and be able to get drafted, or have opportunities with NHL teams and working as a whole and working as a collective, towards the goal of winning will show everyone’s individual skills and let everyone shine like that. So coming together for the last couple of games is key.”
The man who has seen Dumba play more than anyone likes what he sees overall. Although Dumba did not have the most consistent of seasons there is no denying his talents, and Jesse Wallin speaks highly of Dumba’s contributions to the team in the lockeroom and on the ice.
“Matti had a good start and then I thought from mid November to early January he really struggled. He’s an immensely talented young man and yet he’s still a young guy learning the game. Sometimes you watch him play and his ability makes him look older than he really is out there, but he’s a young guy and he’s still maturing in the mental aspect of the game in how to play within himself and use his ability the right way, he was really pressing things.”
“We started running into injury problems in mid November, early December and I think that his heart was in the right place, but he really started to put things on his own shoulders and tried to step up and in the process he just tried to do way too much. He was chasing the game, he was putting a lot of pressure on himself and he was really trying to force things on both ends of the ice and it really ended up hurting him.
“I thought that he really struggled from mid November to early January and I think that since then he’s kind of settled in and outside of a game or two he’s really settled in and played real well for us and we’ve needed him to. He’s played a tonne of minutes because we haven’t had six defencemen in the lineup since the middle of January. We’ve been running with five defencemen and for a two week period we were running with four. He’s a 17 year old guy that’s been asked to play 30, 35 minutes a night and I think that he’s handled it very well in the second half. I think that it’s going to help him improve and he’s handled it very well and it’s been a very big part of his maturing process.”
Dumba will happily play wherever his NHL team assigns him, but with his smallish frame and because of his youth, Dumba will likely find himself back in Red Deer for another year of seasoning next season. While Dumba does exhibit maturity beyond his years at times, there is still something to be said of experience. With another year or two in the Dub, with a full Rebels roster Dumba may better develop into that dynamic player that many have already caught glimpses of.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
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