December 12, 2013
Team Canada likes its defencemen to be percentage players, whereas Matt Dumba fast-rising prospect in the Minnesota Wild organization due to his yen for the open-ice check or calculated gamble to kickstart the offence.
The latter created a clamour for Team Canada to take him for the 2012 world junior championship, where the medal round was held in his native Calgary. Dumba was cut from that team and last season's as well, but after being spotted for the first two months of the NHL season by the Wild, he's on loan to Team Canada. How his big-league experience colors his performance will be a storyline heading into the world junior championship.
"It’s good. It’s seize the moment, live in the moment and be at my best," Dumba said Thursday after arriving at Pearson International Airport, where almost as a reminder of the difference between NHL and junior hockey, he had a one-reporter welcoming party as he waited for his Minnesota Wild equipment bag to appear on the baggage carousel. "It’s a huge honour to represent your country and I just want to do it to the best of my abilities.
"[The Wild's decision is] all based on how the team is doing and injuries and what they felt is best for me, how it would help me grow, that’s basically it."
Being left home in successive Decembers hardly means Hockey Canada was down on Dumba, who played for head coach Brent Sutter with the Red Deer Rebels last season. The rushing defenceman wore the captain's C at the IIHF world under-18 championship in 2012, weeks before Minnesota chose him No. 7 overall.
"The last two years of being cut from Hockey Canada, it hurts," said Dumba, whose WHL rights were traded by Sutter to the Portland Winterhawks on Tuesday. "Like any young kid, you really don’t understand why. That's why I’m fortunate to get this opportunity. Two years later, I’m smarter and I’m that much better. Hopefully it shows in my play.
"They don’t take that offence away from my game," Dumba added in reference to his willingness to jump into rushes. "They want to take that and develop it."
Team Canada, as per a NHL edict, will know by Dec. 19 whether it is getting any other 19-year-olds on loan from NHL clubs. Director on men's national teams Scott Salmond said "we haven't had a 'no' " regarding the Toronto Maple Leafs' Morgan Rielly. The Calgary Flames' front-office shakeoff on Thursday also raised questions about whether interim GM Brian Burke, who presumably had a say in the club's choice not to release centre Sean Monahan, might reconsider.
For point of future reference, since this story comes up every year, it's worth pointing out that Hockey Canada isn't insistent that a player coming back from the NHL attend the December camp. That's if he's good enough.
"We’ve always said that players need to be in camp," Salmond said. "That’s not a policy change. That’s change in the types of players. We know Sean Monahan really well. We know Morgan Rielly really well. We feel they can both jump right in to our team and not upset the chemistry."
The big question with Dumba is how two months of keeping pace with NHLers might help his decision-making. The rub is that he wasn't consistently in the lineup. His last appearance was Nov. 23.
"I think the NHL experience for Matt Dumba has been exceptional," Team Canada head scout Ryan Jankowski said. "He’s always been a high-energy high-impact player playing with a lot of enthusiasm but he’s had to temper that in the National Hockey League. Our thinking is he’ll carry that over to our program."
Of course, if Dumba had been in Red Deer with Sutter, he would have been playing until he could catch ice chips on his tongue.
"We got to get Matt into a situation where we get him going right off that bat because he hasn’t played a lot of games," Sutter said. "So we have to get him up to being at his best by Dec. 26."
For formality's sake, Dumba is listed on the roster as a member of the Wild. Portland coach-GM Mike Johnston gave up a serviceable 18-year-old forward, Presten Kopeck, and a conditional pick to get Dumba's rights. It was a low-risk move. If the Wild decide Dumba, who can't be sent to the American Hockey League, must go back to junior, then Portland gets a top defenceman for its WHL title defence. Plus Dumba could be coming off spending nearly a month with up to three Winterhawks, since centre Nic Petan, forward Taylor Leier and defenceman Derrick Pouliot are also with Team Canada.
Dumba will consider that bridge only if he has to cross it some time after Jan. 5, the day of the gold-medal game in Malmo.
"It’s all good, it’s a business, I understand that and it’s all part of the process. Brent and I have a great relationship so I’m not worried about that [having his WHL rights traded]. Hopefully I stay in the NHL and not have to worry about junior again.
"I think everyone’s focus is Hockey Canada."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.