MINNEAPOLIS -- All eyes in the packed Hyundai Club at U.S. Bank Stadium were on Matt Dumba as he walked up to the stage Thursday night. But that was how he wanted it.
The Wild defenseman had flown back to the Twin Cities from Canada to take part in the ACES All-Star Evening, a fundraising gala benefiting the organization Dumba works closest with. And while the end of Dumba's hockey career is still a long way away, he may have a future as an auctioneer -- or a teacher.
ACES builds relationships between low-income students in grades 4-8 and athletes from all major sports teams in the Twin Cities, pairing sports and a project-based math curriculum to help the students academically and ultimately working to lower the achievement gap in Twin Cities schools. Dumba, who has worked with the organization for several years, is one of its most outspoken proponents, going above and beyond to help the students.
It's his own upbringing that spurred him to action with ACES and that provides the fire behind what he does.
"I was fortunate enough to have two parents that were working hard, but you know, for a lower-income family, putting a child through hockey is nothing easy," Dumba said. "The support that I had from my own community along with a scholarship program that helped me get through school … was so instrumental to the person I am today. I'm so grateful for that and everything my parents did so this is the least I can do, I feel."
Dumba not only volunteers in person at schools and outreach events, but he also e-mentors a student via email and has helped raise over $20,000 for ACES. For all his work, he was honored at the All-Star Evening with the second annual Locke'd In award; named for its first winner, former Vikings punter Jeff Locke, the award is given to a dedicated mentor for outstanding volunteerism and their commitment to after-school programming.
"It means a lot to me," Dumba said of receiving the award. "I definitely don't need the recognition for what I'm doing but the fact that they see that, I really hope it's making a difference deep down, what I'm doing. I'm putting a lot of effort into this and to see the difference that it's making is huge."
As an ACES student presented Dumba with the award, and Dumba gave his acceptance speech, the crowd was rapt with attention, occasionally breaking into applause.
But even with the award under his belt, Dumba wasn't done for evening. Enlisting Wild teammate Jason Zucker, and Zucker's wife Carly, it was time to raise even more money. One of the items in the live auction was a 20-person suite at a Wild game, including beverages, food, a parking pass, and postgame meet-and-greet with Dumba.
In case that wasn't enough, Dumba upped the stakes. He and Zucker split the room in half, each taking a side to rally and root on as the suite package was auctioned off. The bidding capped off at a whopping $12,000, with Dumba's side taking the victory - but another suite package was offered up, and a bidder on Zucker's side also found himself as a lucky winner.
By the end of the night, more than $215,000 had been raised for ACES, with Dumba behind a significant portion of it.
The now-reigning Locke'd In award-winner remembered just how much of a focus education had been to his family growing up, with his mom in particular emphasizing the importance of academic commitment. Dumba's impact on ACES is almost an extension of his role in his family, and that makes it all the dearer.
"I have an enormous family, and I am the oldest in my family, oldest cousin, oldest brother," Dumba said. "I see a lot of similarities in my family to the kids that I work with, and it's so special to see their wit and just how smart they are. That's what makes it special to me."