The walls are coated in framed portraits, a mosaic of faces, vibrant flowers and eye-catching birds.
A pond brimming with Japanese koi bustles at the entrance, and a human skull is perched in the next room.
Near the back, past the cluster of crucifixes, is Sean Crofoot’s station at Leviticus Tattoo & Piercing in Minneapolis, where Wild defenseman Matt Dumba comes to get inked.
“My mom really wanted me originally to have all my tattoos have meaning,” Dumba said in the backroom of Leviticus while classic rock crooned in the background. “I’ve kind of gotten away from that a little bit as of late, but still I’m always thinking of tattoos. It’s [a] never-ending cycle.”
More than 50 drawings — Dumba isn’t sure exactly how many — canvas his chest, back, arm, behind his ear and even on his foot.
As one sprawling constellation, these images tell a story, which is what Dumba loves. They depict where he’s from, where he is now and where he hopes to be going, a road map that could also suggest which direction the Wild will veer.
Back on the ice after having the best season of his career abruptly cut short, the 25-year-old is returning with the potential to help the Wild regain relevance. The team, which without Dumba missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years, opens it season Thursday at Nashville.
One of the imprints he’s trying to leave on hockey is the same one the Wild has yet to reach.
“I just want [to be a] champion,” he said. “Whatever it takes to do that, at the end of the day, that’s why we’re all in it.”
On the fly
Covering most of Dumba’s left rib cage is a dragonfly, his first tattoo at 18. At his grandmother’s funeral six years earlier, a dragonfly landed on her urn.
“Every time I see a dragonfly, it always stops me in my tracks,” said Dumba, who decided as a young child he wanted tattoos — even tracing designs on one arm with a finger while sitting in class. “That’s probably the deepest for me.”
After moving from Saskatchewan to Calgary when he was 6, Dumba started playing organized hockey. His dad Charle built a rink in their backyard and after steering his younger brother, Kyle, to the net, Dumba would skate all day with friends, intoxicated by the chill that hit his face when he charged up ice.
That play, the opportunity to quarterback the action, is what turned Dumba from a forward to a defenseman when he reached peewees.
“What you see now is way more tame,” he said. “You guys get on me when I’m going a little too much maybe, but you don’t even know. You think I play rover now? Every time I touched the puck, I was trying to go end-to-end.”
Dumba, drafted seventh overall in 2012 by the Wild, didn’t see his development as him progressing to the NHL; all he knew was that he never wanted to stop competing. It wasn’t until the Flames reached the 2004 Stanley Cup Final that he declared, “I want to be a hockey player.” And when he witnessed Sidney Crosby’s golden goal for Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics, the NHL became his ambition.
“That put me over the edge.”
Dealing with adversity
An ode to his other grandmother is on his left arm, where there’s a rose to symbolize her name, a rosary because she was religious and a cribbage hand; she taught Dumba how to play. The cards equal 24, Dumba’s number.
There’s also a heart with a lock on it (“I always wear my heart on my sleeve,” Dumba said), the numbers 135 to commemorate his boyhood address and Kanye West’s bear mascot — a nod to the albums Dumba grew up listening to that remind him not to forget where he’s from.
Dumba filled out the sleeve as he worked to become a regular in the NHL, playing junior hockey in Red Deer, Alberta, and Portland before breaking into the NHL in 2013-14 and becoming a regular the next season. Three years later, he signed a five-year, $30 million contract. He was having a career year through 32 games last year, leading NHL defensemen in goals with 12 by capitalizing on a blistering accuracy he honed in the summer.
“You don’t always have to hit the homer,” Dumba explained. “Sometimes it’s a sac fly. Just get it on net. Just give it a chance.”
But in December he tore his right pectoral muscle when one of the last punches he threw in a fight with the Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk missed. The tussle came after Dumba leveled Mikael Backlund during a game in Calgary the previous week.
“I don’t regret anything because I know what happened,” said Dumba. “I still would have hit Backlund. … I knew it was coming. … I was ready to fight. Like, I wanted to fight.”
Dumba tried to keep playing, telling defensive partner Ryan Suter not to pass to him since he couldn’t raise his arm. He had to wind up for a power-play shot, though, and almost dropped his stick afterward.
When he left the game and removed his equipment, Dumba’s arm was purple. Blood had already pooled in his biceps.
Friends drove Dumba to get an MRI, after the group stopped at Fuddruckers for burgers and shakes, and what ensued was a rigorous recovery that included multiple surgeries.
Dumba ended up being allergic to stitches that dissolve, a complication that made him susceptible to infection because the wound wouldn’t close. He was angry for a month after the injury, but his attitude changed when he determined feeling sorry for himself was no way to live.
So he got busy, watching movies, reading books and working toward his associate degree by taking a sports management class online — even interviewing the Wild’s head athletic trainer John Worley for an assignment.
He learned the depth of his resilience, and that gave him confidence.
“What kept me going is everything that I worked so hard for in the first place,” Dumba said, “all the sacrifices my family made to get me here, still what I think I have to give to my teammates.”
Growing up, Dumba skated with used equipment. His dad sharpened skates and refereed games on the side to pay for Dumba to play, dedication that still sticks with Dumba all these years later.
“That’s how him and my mom [Treena] operated together,” he said. “They wanted the absolute best for us. … That’s where I want to come in and show them how much I care about that, that me and my brother — we both acknowledge that and see that.”
Underneath the lion on Dumba’s back that represents strength and courage are Crofoot’s April additions, the numbers 24 and 55 against a backdrop of stars.
“He still had stitches in and was bruised,” recalled Crofoot, who’s been tattooing Dumba for the past five years after the two met through a mutual friend.
Before he wore 24, Dumba donned 55 as a Wild rookie. Together those numbers — and the stars — signify the impact he’s striving for as a professional.
To this point, Dumba’s been mostly known for his offense — a trademark he has patented and wears proudly, with sights set on 30 goals and 50-plus points.
“He’s been shooting on me all summer,” said Kyle Dumba, a goalie at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary. “This is the best I’ve seen him.”
But Dumba wants to contribute more.
“You can have two goals in a game and play a bad game still,” he said. “You can do that. I’ve done that.”
His continued evolution would certainly benefit the team as it attempts to rebound from finishing last in the Central Division. And how the Wild does is Dumba’s ultimate measuring stick.
The tattoos, exuberant goal celebrations and active social-media presence are authentically Dumba, an upbeat sparkplug who energizes his teammates.
But there’s more to him than meets the eye, and the glory he’s after is a group achievement.
“I hope I’m a big part of this team,” he said, “… but I’m only a small piece of it.”
His performance on the ice, however, isn’t the only reputation on Dumba’s mind.
Dumba works with the nonprofit Athletes Committed to Educating Students to improve the likelihood of success for youngsters from low-income families. He recognizes the opportunity he has to make a difference in the community and be a role model, giving kids whose ethnicity doesn’t resemble the majority in a predominantly white sport someone to look up to.
“That’s what I want my number to stand for,” said Dumba, who is mixed race. “Obviously, I want to be the greatest player and leave a legacy on the game, but it’s what you leave for others and that’s something hockey’s allowed me to do.”
Room for more
His right leg is bare now, but Dumba has plans for it.
That’s where he wants to specifically chronicle his journey, every up and all the downs.
“When you do get into the true meaning of people’s tattoos or what time they got them in their life or what was going on,” Dumba said, “that’s when you can fully break down and see what’s going on, what’s going through someone’s head at different times in their lives. I think that’s the cool part about it for me.”
Among the illustrations of his tragedies and triumphs also will be a tribute to hockey.
Not only does that salute his past, but it encompasses his future, too.
“It was a long way to come,” he said, “and it’s just beginning.”