Last season was cut short for Matt Dumba.
Before the halfway point, the Wild defenseman was sidelined because of a torn pectoral muscle that took months to heal.
And yet despite returning for 2019-20 and sticking in the lineup, he could end up with the same fate.
“It is weird, man,” Dumba said Thursday on a video conference call. “Two seasons, never thought things like that would happen in either of them, and here we are just sitting here still. I guess we’ll see how it pans out. [I] hope we can finish this.”
The coronavirus pandemic halted the NHL more than nine weeks ago, and Dumba is spending the hiatus in Calgary.
Restrictions there are beginning to lift, he said, and he hopes developments keep trending in the right direction. But Dumba has no date in mind to come back to Minnesota at this point, and he also hasn’t heard when he should try to return.
“I’m sure it’ll have its challenges,” Dumba said about crossing the border. “I think as this progresses and just continues to evolve, I guess we’ll learn more. I don’t really know too much right now, but I assume I can just quarantine at my own apartment.”
What’s been most challenging for Dumba is not knowing if the season will restart.
“It might start up,” he said. “It might not. Flip-flopping, and every week that goes by, you’re just not sure about anything, really, and usually for us hockey players, it’s pretty concrete. You’re either still playing or you’re not, so that’s kind of been difficult.”
Not only was the Wild on the upswing before play stopped, sitting a point shy of a playoff position amid a 12-5-1 run, but Dumba had also found a groove.
After a miserable first half that saw him get demoted, lose ice time and struggle offensively to the tune of a 33-game goalless drought, the 25-year-old began to re-establish himself. He was cleaner in front of the Wild’s net and making an impact at the other end, with 11 points over his previous 22 games.
“I did like how I kind of transitioned those last couple weeks or month before the season was ended,” Dumba said. “I think I was really finding my game again and starting to get back to where I was.”
Through 69 games, Dumba had six goals and 24 points — output way below the totals Dumba has envisioned for himself. He’s targeting 30 goals and 50-plus points and although he hasn’t come close to hitting those marks this season, he remains confident that’s his potential.
“I still think I’m capable of those things,” said Dumba, explaining that he might have paid too much attention to those goals instead of concentrating on his strengths. “I can’t lose sight of what makes me the type of player that I am, that tenacity and grittiness and energy. I think if I bring all those, then everything else follows.”
That dynamic offensive ability was on display before Dumba got hurt when he scored 12 goals in 32 games in 2018. But when a punch he threw in a fight with Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk missed, Dumba tore his right pectoral muscle and embarked on an extensive recovery that included multiple surgeries and complications.
Still, Dumba persevered and was ready for training camp.
“To really push for the start of the season and make sure I could play hockey at the highest level, I put so much time and effort into my pec and my shoulder rehabbing it,” he recalled. “Looking back on it and kind of reflecting, maybe I didn’t get to touch on some of the stuff I normally do throughout an offseason to prepare for the season from a skills standpoint.
“For me I’m just working on that stuff right now and trying to keep my game tight with the possibility of us coming back.”
Dumba has a gym set up at his home, and he’s also been busy with a new dog. He’s staying in touch with teammates, sending the occasional text message and checking in on Snapchat.
“We’ll see what happens,” Dumba said. “I don’t really think anyone has concrete facts or … set dates or anything like that. So, yeah, I’ll just be on standby like the rest of us.”
Hockey, however, hasn’t been his only focus.
He’s given back during the pandemic, donating to support ACES families impacted by COVID-19 with immediate and basic needs. An ambassador for Athletes Committed to Educating Students (ACES), Dumba also participated in an auction to help students affected by school closures.
“I’m in a situation where I’ve got a roof over my head,” Dumba said. “I have bills paid. I have food in my fridge and loved ones around me, so I’m very fortunate. So, I think through this whole process, philanthropy and people helping each other is the way we get through something like this.”