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New perspective fuels Dumba's return from devastating injury

Defenseman had the sport he loved taken away from him for the first time following shoulder surgery last December

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ST. PAUL -- There is a maturity about Matt Dumba that hasn't been on display before. 

Some of that comes with age. Now 25, Dumba isn't a young kid anymore.

Some of it comes with experience, as the Wild defenseman enters his seventh NHL season.

But it also comes with having something important taken away from you for the first time in your life. Off to the best start of his career last season, Dumba ruptured his right pectoralis muscle in a fight in the 32nd game of the campaign. 

A hockey player his entire life, his lifeblood -- his identity -- was taken away from him in a matter of moments and that changed him. 

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"For me, I tried to suppress everything. What could have been, all these thoughts, I never really dealt with them and it kind of hit me right after the year," Dumba told during the team's annual media day on Thursday. "All those feelings are just waiting for you away from the game and you have to deal with those, and the mental aspect of sports and mental health in general. It's a big component to handling injuries and adversity in sports. It's definitely something I know other guys have dealt with and I'm just happy to be over that stage of it. I definitely won't be taking anything for granted anymore."

Dumba said the worst of it came in the weeks following the end of the season. While he wasn't playing, he at least had the distraction of the team in the immediate months after the injury.

But trying to find the positive in everything became difficult. Going weeks with his arm in a sling, unable to work out or play the game he loved, became excruciating.

Once the season was over, reality hit him like a ton of bricks.

"That was the first time [hockey was taken from me] and it definitely wears on you more than you think," Dumba said. "The mental aspect of it, trying to put on that smile and pretend that everything is all good. Trying to see the positives in things, it isn't always the easiest, especially when the team is struggling a little and you know you could have helped out a little and contributed in some way. That was tough for me."

The Wild was in the middle of the playoff hunt in mid-December when Dumba sustained his injury. He led all defenseman in the League in goals up to that point with 12. Minnesota's blue line was one of the most proficient in creating offense.

All of that changed when No. 24 went down. 

The Wild finished in the bottom third in offense from defensemen. Minnesota missed the postseason for the first time in seven years. 

Video: Matt Dumba is healthy and ready

"I don't think we realized when it happened how much of a factor that was," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "But it turned out to be a tremendous factor. Power play, it makes you scarier. When you're down and you need that one guy to just kind of let loose, he was the guy. He would play a little chaotic sometimes, but he was playing it to win."

Dumba, who has always run with his engine revved, said he learned how to calm down and learn some things about himself away from the rink as well. 

Typically in the past, he'd be a guy who would take the game home with him or allow a bad game to linger for several days. 

Call it maturity or just getting older, but Dumba said he thinks he'll have a better grasp on leaving the game at the rink because he's found ways to engage that don't involve hockey.

"I'm a high-strung guy and I'd carry some stuff home with me," Dumba said. "I'm getting better at just parking it, and coming to work the rink the next day. That's what some of our older guys do, and I think that's what gives those guys that longevity."

Now eight months removed from the injury and the surgical procedure that followed, Dumba enters training camp feeling as good as he ever has before. 

After spending too much time trying to find the positives in the situation, one of the few silver linings that has come to the forefront is that Dumba was able to spend more time training and strengthening his body in preparation for the upcoming season. 

Add some additional poise and a new perspective and Dumba thinks he's ready for his best season yet.

"Most definitely, I think it just gives you that focus to be dialed in at the rink, I think it's just huge," Dumba said. "This is the best I've ever felt and I'm ready to perform right now."

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