Their gloves and sticks tumbled to the ice and rolled away in unison, giving Wild defenseman Matt Dumba and Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk room to grapple.
Soon the clutching gave way to punches, and a Tkachuk swipe led to a smattering of stitches on Dumba’s face.
“It made me pretty angry,” Dumba said.
He wound up to retaliate, but when Dumba swung his fist, he missed Tkachuk. It wasn’t until the two were separated and unwinding in the penalty box that Dumba sensed the repercussion of that off-target swing, a throbbing from a torn right pectoral muscle that has sidelined Dumba, potentially for the rest of the season.
“It’s frustrating,” he said.
With his right arm tucked into a brace, Dumba rehashed that Dec. 15 fight publicly for the first time Friday at Tria Rink. He underwent surgery last month to repair the injury, which meant a recovery of at least three months.
After leveling Calgary center Mikael Backlund on Dec. 6 in Calgary late in a 2-0 loss for the Wild, Dumba expected to have to answer for the hit the next time these two teams met, even though he had already been confronted that game.
Winger Ryan Lomberg picked a fight with Dumba soon after the collision and was suspended a game for leaving the bench legally to instigate a fight, one of two bans issued from the game since Flames captain Mark Giordano also had to sit for two games for kneeing captain Mikko Koivu earlier in the third period.
Dumba wasn’t going to shy away from his next challenger, which ended up being Tkachuk just 40 seconds into the rematch at Xcel Energy that ended with a 2-1 Calgary win. But in hindsight, the 24-year-old wonders why he had to be in that position again.
“It wasn’t really warranted,” he said. “It was a clean hit [on Backlund]. Nothing from the NHL. No penalty on the play. I got jumped seconds after. It is frustrating. Even when I talk about it right now, I’m just getting caught up in the emotion of it.”
Despite feeling in pain, Dumba continued to play after serving the five-minute fighting major, figuring he would get evaluated at the intermission; maybe he’d get wrapped up and take some Tylenol. But once doctors saw the injury, it was “no go from there,” Dumba said.
Aches and pains are common now as he starts to gain more mobility, but they’re minor; he was hurting, though, after surgery, which Dumba said returns individuals to full strength, if not stronger.
In the meantime, with inflammation still an issue, his current rehab regime is basic. Once he ditches the brace, which he’ll have to wear for at least another couple of weeks, Dumba’s timeline for activity will become clearer. He’s not sure if he’ll play again this season.
“It’s a slower process because you have to gain that range of motion back,” he said.
A righthander, Dumba has had to utilize his left hand more, an adjustment that has added time to his daily routine. Dumba’s also been getting rides rather than driving.
Instead of feeling down about this process, though, Dumba has vowed to stay levelheaded as he joins teammates at the rink and watches their games while offering up encouragement and feedback.
“You have to deal with it and live with it,” he explained. “I think if you get caught up in what could have been, that leads to just you being sad and depressed through this whole thing. I’m not about to do that. I’ll be back eventually, whether it’s this year or next.”
This setback derailed what could have been Dumba’s best NHL season.
At the time of his injury, Dumba’s 12 goals led NHL defensemen and were just two shy of his career high. Overall, he had 22 points and ranked among team leaders in points on the power play, hits, shots and ice time — this after he signed a five-year, $30 million contract last summer.
“I thought I was doing a great job on capitalizing on the opportunities I had,” Dumba said. “I’ve always thought I had that shot, and I think that came with a little more opportunity and guys trusting it more.”
Dumba hopes that’s still the case once he’s ready to resume his career because he’s convinced he’ll be the same player he was before the injury or better.
“I’ll do the same thing,” he said. “I’m not worried.”