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Wild hopes Dumba can channel frustration into next season

Defenseman was on track for a career year until injury ended his campaign just before Christmas

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe /

ST. PAUL -- Wild defenseman Matt Dumba still stews about the circumstances that surround his season-ending injury back in December. 

Late in a 2-0 loss to the Calgary Flames, Dumba blasted Calgary forward Mikael Backlund with an open-ice check with which the Flames took exception. The hit was deemed legal, however; there was no penalty assessed on the play and the NHL did not impose any supplemental discipline. 

But Flames rookie forward Ryan Lomberg took matters into his own hands, jumped Dumba and punched him several times while Dumba tried to protect himself.

Referees charged Lomberg a fighting major, an instigator penalty and a game misconduct for his actions.

Nine days later, the Flames and Wild played again, this time in St. Paul. Lomberg's actions after the initial hit should have been enough, but instead, Calgary and Minnesota engaged in three separate fights, including Dumba, who was invited to drop the mits by Matthew Tkachuk in the first period. 

It was during that fight that Dumba ruptured his right pectoralis muscle, ending his season after just 32 games.

Video: Locker clean out: Dumba

"[The frustration] definitely still lingers. I have tried my best to kind of suppress that and look forward," Dumba said earlier this week. "That's all we can really do right now. Just try to come back even better."

It was especially frustrating for Dumba -- and the Wild -- because of the kind of season he was having. Less than halfway through the year, Dumba already had 12 goals, 22 points and was well on his way to his best season as a pro, just months after signing a new five-year contract extension with the team that selected him seventh overall in the 2012 NHL Draft. 

In 32 games, Dumba was only two goals shy of his career high set in 2017-18, when he played in all 82 games.

He was also primed for a historic season in team annals as well. Brent Burns holds the team record for goals in a season by a defenseman with 17, and at the time of the injury, Dumba led all NHL blueliners in goals.

"I think these last two years I've proved myself to others," Dumba said. "I knew I had that. I've been able to show that with how good I was playing."

With Dumba in the lineup, the Wild's offense and power play was middle of the pack and it was just four points out of a top-3 spot in the Central Division with a game in hand.

After the injury, Minnesota's attack sputtered. The Wild was shut out 10 times over the final 50 games of the season and lost more games than it won, falling from fourth to seventh in the Central standings.

While plenty will be unpacked about the Wild's season in the coming days and weeks, and why things went sideways over the second half, it's Dumba's injury that might be one of the tentpole reasons Minnesota missed the postseason for the first time in seven years.

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"I've said before, [Dumba] is our best player up until that injury, and you knew he had a huge impact on what was going on out there for everybody," said Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk. "Then you see him go out and you really realize how good he was for us. So that was a big blow."

Since the injury, Dumba has been working hard to get back. Had the Wild made the postseason and gone on a run, it's possible that he could have seen a return this season -- perhaps the Western Conference Finals, at the earliest.

Instead, Dumba will not be rushed in his recovery and the Wild is solely focused on getting him ready by autumn. The hope is he can pick up right where he left off. 

Dumba said he has no doubt he will be ready for training camp come September.

"I've got my range of motion. It's kind of just building up to strength over the last couple of weeks. I'm happy about that," Dumba said. "I'm going to do everything in my power to come back very strong and ready for next season."


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