Matt Dumba had possibly the worst game of his NHL career Tuesday. On Thursday, he played arguably his best.
Despite Dumba one day surrendering the turnover that cost the Wild the game and then watching the last 19 minutes, 17 seconds from the bench to rallying for double assists, blocks and hits in a big victory two days later, the defenseman didn’t actually make any drastic changes during that off day in between.
Instead, he relied on the same resource he has since he was 16: sports psychology.
“Over the years, though, I’ve really built up my mental strength and the stuff that I like to do in my routines and rituals,” Dumba said. “It’s just staying consistent with those and really just honing those and finding what’s best for you.”
Dumba worked with sports psychologist Derek Robinson throughout his juniors career with the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels. With him, Dumba developed a routine — such as doing visualizations before every game — that the 23-year-old still uses now in the NHL.
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who considered benching Dumba after his play in the 2-1 loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday, said what impressed him about the player’s quick comeback in the 6-3 victory over Montreal on Thursday was Dumba’s obvious preparation and ability to not overcomplicate.
“When you make simple plays, good things happen. He didn’t try to do too much. And when you do that, you end up doing more than enough,” Boudreau said. “He didn’t overhandle the puck. He shot the puck when he got it from the point. A lot of good things. He played a good game.”
Not surprisingly, that is exactly what Robinson said he worked with Dumba on during their four years together.
“He’s an emotional player who cared a lot, so then you’ve got to let go of mistakes. You’ve got to rebound better, and you’ve got to find consistency. Routines is a good example of that and the mind-set you have,” Robinson said. “Players like Matt are fiercely competitive, which makes them so good. … He cares, and sometimes it’s easy to care too much and try too hard. And one thing Matt and all defensemen have to learn, especially talented offensive defensemen, they have to learn to simplify their game so less is more.”
The fact that Dumba said he didn’t do anything differently from bad game to good game shows he was channeling that advice, not forcing changes that might backfire instead of benefit.
“Honestly, I just prepared for another game,” Dumba said. “The last couple weeks, I’ve been really focused on hockey and taking care of myself and working out and getting on the ice early practicing. I knew it was just a matter of time before it all came together, and I think it will here in the next couple weeks and hopefully months and the rest of the year.”
Dumba said he’s also worked on his mentality, not letting one play define his season or dictate how he feels. Winger Mikael Granlund, who hangs out with Dumba a lot away from the rink, said he tries to do his part to help his friend with that aspect.
“It’s a different thing on the ice and then off the ice, you just try to take your mind off the game and sometimes that’s the best way to not get too much into it,” Granlund said. “When you have a day off or something, do something else. Don’t think about hockey.”
In general, Dumba’s season has been fairly volatile for one of the Wild’s top-four defensemen. And while Dumba seeks to concentrate his big rebound into more stability Saturday night against Chicago, Robinson said his advice to his former client would be to let go of mistakes and refocus on the next challenge — but also give himself a break.
“It felt good, really good,” Dumba said of being able to atone for Tuesday’s mistakes so quickly. “At the end of the game, I still said to myself, like, ‘It’s only one game.’ And I want to be able to do this consistently every night, not just be something that’s seen in the eyes of people as redemption. I want to be able to make a difference every night.”