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Dumba hopes to build on pre-stoppage momentum

Defenseman says he was finally feeling like himself in the final month before NHL's COVID stoppage

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

Admittedly, Matt Dumba spent a little too much time looking at the forest and not enough at the trees at the beginning of the 2019-20 season.

After spending nine months rehabbing from shoulder surgery that robbed him of the second half of a breakout 2018-19 season, Dumba had new heights he was determined to reach. 

He wanted to become the first NHL defenseman in a decade to score 30 goals.

The crazy part is, Dumba's desire to become the first blueliner since Mike Green to reach 30 goals wasn't at all absurd. He scored 12 in 32 games before sustaining a ruptured right pectoralis in mid-December of 2018. 

Carry that pace over the course of an 82-game season? That's 30 goals. 

Dumba says he may have become perhaps too singularly focused on reaching that milestone instead of focusing on the smaller things he needed to in order to approach it.

Video: Matt Dumba chats with the media

"I think it was just focusing on some little things that I had to try and get back in-tune with," Dumba said. "Trust myself to know what kind of player I can be.

"At the start of the year, more or less, it was just finding it again. After that big of a break, it's hard to come back from an injury like that. I found that out."

While the idea of a quick return to normal was in his head, Dumba said it took some time to trust himself and trust his injury again. 

That was the catalyst behind a slow start to the year, one where Dumba scored just three goals in the first 51 games while compiling a minus-9. Between Nov. 14 and Feb. 1, a span of 33 games, Dumba didn't score a goal, a weight that became quite apparent as that stretch of games wore on.

His drought was snapped in dramatic fashion, as Dumba scored the overtime game winner Feb. 4 against Chicago, breaking out in a Guitar Hero-style celebration as he was mobbed by his teammates.

Video: CHI@MIN: Dumba weaves by defense to score OT winner 

The game was the first in a stretch of 18 before the season hit pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic where Dumba scored three goals and had eight points and was a plus-2. 

He looked and felt a lot more like himself.

"I like how I transitioned over those past couple weeks or a month," Dumba said. "I think I was really finding my game again. I started to get back to where I was."

It's no coincidence that the Wild was 12-5-1 in those 18 games where Dumba was feeling more like his old self. Perhaps no player over the past couple of seasons has been a driver of the Wild's overall record than Dumba. Minnesota was in the thick of the playoff race in 2018-19 before his injury. It spent the second half of the season limping to the finish line without him, outside the postseason for the first time in seven years.

Video: Matt Dumba joins 'Cooped Up with Ryan Carter'

The Wild was 23-22-6 and an afterthought in the playoff picture before Dumba took off over the final month prior to the pause. Sitting at 35-27-7 should the season resume at some point this summer, Minnesota resides just one point behind Nashville for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. 

And while the bulk of the last two seasons have not gone the way Dumba had planned, he hopes for a chance to at least finish this one on a high note ... if for no other reason than to have a solid base to build on for 2020-21, whenever it may begin.

"It is weird, two seasons I never thought things like that would happen. Neither of them. But here we are, just sitting here," Dumba said. "We'll see how it pans out, but I hope we can finish this."


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