Wild defenseman Matt Dumba chose to wear No. 24 while he was in juniors, picking the same number associated with three of his favorite athletes: Kobe Bryant, Ken Griffey Jr. and Champ Bailey.
On Saturday, Dumba, still wearing No. 24, made another tribute when he donned Bryant’s name on the back of his Wild jersey during the team’s pregame skate at Xcel Energy Center almost a week after Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash.
“I was sitting in Mexico on the beach when I heard the news,” Dumba said, “and I think like everyone else I was just shook. And then watching stuff throughout the day, I was fighting back tears at points. It’s someone that you grew up idolizing.”
Since the crash last Sunday, tributes have poured in from around the world for Bryant, and the NHL has also remembered the NBA legend.
Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin wore a No. 24 jersey during warmups, switching from his usual No. 8 sweater. Los Angeles Kings players arrived at Staples Center in Bryant basketball jerseys for the first game at the arena since Bryant’s death.
Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson suited up in a Bryant-themed mask that included a depiction of Bryant and his daughter and listed the names of the other seven victims.
And earlier Saturday, the Blue Jackets had only No. 8 Zach Werenski and No. 24 Nathan Gerbe stand on the blue line for the national anthem.
A similar scene played out in St. Paul, with Dumba the only Wild player on the blue line for the national anthem. The team also held a moment of silence. Dumba’s jersey will be auctioned off to benefit the families affected by the tragedy.
“I had the Kobe Hyperdunks [shoes] when I was playing junior high basketball,” Dumba said. “I ordered a pair of those, the same pair, a couple of days ago. Just another way to kind of pay homage to not only him but the other eight in the helicopter. It’s just such a tragedy. I think it hits home just for everyone, really, who was touched by him and what he did in basketball and for sports.”
Before he relaxed like the rest of his teammates during the recent nine-day break, center Eric Staal represented the Wild at the All-Star Game in St. Louis — sharing the experience with his three sons.
“They made themselves at home pretty quickly,” Staal said. “They were wrestling in the middle of the [locker] room. I think they cleared all the bubble gum out of the container. They were stuffing them in their pockets, especially the youngest. It was fun. We had a couple good pictures with some pretty big names in the hockey world, so it was fun.”
Staal was a shooter in the save streak challenge for goalies during the skills competition and then skated with the Central Division team that lost 10-5 to the Pacific Division in one of the All-Star Game semifinals.
“Just started to get a sweat on, and that was it,” Staal said. “You get behind by a few, it’s tough coming back. But it was a good experience, just to be out there and just kind of enjoying seeing some of those guys on a personal level and meeting a lot of guys, it was a good time.”
Back to business
The Wild opened its post-break schedule against the Bruins with the same lineup it used before the nine-day hiatus.
Forward Ryan Donato and defensemen Brad Hunt and Nick Seeler were the scratches.
“The last four games we played pretty well,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, referring to the 3-1 stretch by the team leading into the All-Star break. “It’s pretty tough to make changes for the sake of changes. Brad’s played well for us. Ryan’s played well for us. Seel’s hasn’t had much of a chance to play. But our goal is to win, right? If we need to make changes for the Chicago game [on Tuesday], we will. But right now, this is the lineup that last won a game and it’s the lineup that we’re starting with.”