Wild star Matt Dumba fell in love with the sport of hockey as 5-year-old kid growing up in Calgary, Alberta. He loved everything about it. The freeing feeling of gliding on skates. The rush of adrenaline that came with scoring a goal. The rewarding nature of steadily improving his craft.
In that same vein, though, Dumba has been privy to the problems within the game for as long as he can remember. He used to get teased by kids on opposing teams because he looked different. Sometimes the teasing would escalate to something more.
Though he managed to take the high road more often than not, Dumba still remembers feeling ostracized as a kid trying to play the game he loved. He doesn’t want any kid to have to experience those type of feelings moving forward.
“My 26-year-old self is able to stand up for those kids and my past self who maybe didn’t have the courage or didn’t know how to go about it,” Dumba said. “I think I’ve figured that out now.”
That mentality is a big reason why Dumba has been nominated as for the Masterton Trophy by the Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The trophy is given annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to the sport.
It’s essentially turned into the NHL’s version of Comeback Player of the Year, though Dumba’s nomination goes beyond his play on the ice.
He’s made it his mission to make the game more inclusive to everyone with the ultimate goal of eradicating racism from the game completely. He’s also been very vocal in speaking out against racism as a whole, especially in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis last year.
“I have a platform to make a change and make a difference,” Dumba said. “It’d be a shame if I let that go to waste.”
Asked how he’s discovered his voice, Dumba said it simply came down to mustering up the courage to speak up.
“There’s a lot of self-reflecting, questioning, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’” said Dumba, who won the King Clancy Trophy last offseason in response to his leadership qualities on and off the ice. “Just the support of my family and friends through this whole process has really helped me get through that. It’s been a fun journey.”
When it comes to the Masterton Trophy, it’s hard to find someone that personifies the award more than Dumba does on a daily basis.
You want to want to talk about perseverance? He’s been a lightning rod for criticism ever since last summer when he gave a powerful speech about fighting racism within the sport, then became first player in NHL history to kneel for the U.S. national anthem. He’s stayed true to his message despite constant backlash on social media.
“It’s tough at times,” Dumba said. “You go through any of my comments, or scroll through my direct messages, there’s a lot of hate that’s involved with them. Just persevering through that, I’m thinking about all the kids that I am helping.”
You want to want to talk about sportsmanship? He’s brought players together a leading member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, an organization founded by players of color to combat racial injustice and inequality in the sport. It’s been steadily growing over the past year and Dumba’s a big reason for that.
“It’s been fun getting to know a lot of guys who share the same morals and values,” Dumba said. “They see the same things that I’m seeing that are wrong with the game. Things that we want to make better and push for change in this game.”
You want to take about dedication to the sport? He’s dedicated himself to growing the game at the grassroots level. In February, he hosted his inaugural Hockey Without Limits Camp at the Guidant John Rose Minnesota Oval in Roseville. It’s designed to bring more diversity and inclusion to the game and provide more children the opportunity to play the sport.
“That’s what gives me hope for this next generation of kids,” Dumba said. “Just the energy that we’re cultivating here is starting to change here in Minnesota. Hopefully it continues across North America and eventually the world.”
Even if he doesn’t win the Masterton Trophy when it’s awarded in a couple of months, Dumba can feel proud of how he’s using his platform.
“It’s been really special for me,” Dumba said. “Just getting to know myself better and feeling comfortable in my own shoes, and being able to preach that to kids who look like me and kids who want to get involved in the game and make this game more inclusive.”
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Author: Dane Mizutani