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‘Weird’ homecoming for former Wild mainstay Matt Dumba

Matt Dumba was so entwined with the Minnesota hockey community during 10 years as a mainstay on the Wild’s blue line that it would have been weird if he didn’t meet with local hockey folks on his first trip back since leaving as a free agent.

Now a veteran leader on an Arizona Coyotes team in the thick of a rare postseason push, Dumba met with local reporters before an optional skate Saturday morning at Xcel Energy Center — but not until after he had met with Mosaic Hockey Collective and the winners of a 2023 auction that benefited the Hendrickson Foundation.

That was about the only typical thing for Dumba as he prepared for his first game against the team that selected him seventh overall in the 2012 entry draft.

“It’s weird, but super exciting,” he said. “It’s good to see all these familiar faces, friends, but it’s different being over on the away side.”

Dumba, 29, couldn’t stop smiling.

“It’s very exciting, obviously, just being able to see everyone that you did it with on a daily basis,” he said. “You make so many relationships with a hockey club over a 10-year span, and it’s nice to get back here and check in on everyone.”

That includes Wild equipment managers such as Tony DeCosta and longtime blue line partner Jonas Brodin. Those two sat on one of the team benches and went over all the latest, including Brodin’s recovery from an arm/hand injury that has sidelined him since Dec. 8.

Initially, it was odd to be playing with a different partner, Dumba said. “But like anything,” he added, “you just keep pushing forward. I’ve got a great group of teammates here. Great D core. We have a lot of fun and that’s been fun to play with a bunch of these guys.”

That includes former Wild teammates Jason Zucker and Nick Bjugstad.

Dumba wasn’t necessarily looking to leave Minnesota, but the Wild’s salary cap — seriously stressed this season and next by the buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter — made re-signing him untenable. He didn’t find a landing place until agreeing to a one-year, $3.9 million deal with Arizona on Aug. 6. He had two goals, three assists and was a minus-11 in 39 games heading into Saturday’s puck drop.

The Wild honored Dumba with a brief video tribute during a pause in the first period. I definitely got chills, the whole body,” he said. “That was a very special tribute. I’m grateful for my time here.”

Dumba’s fourth annual Hockey Without Limits camp will be held Feb. 18 at the Roseville Oval with Wild forwards Connor Dewar and Brandon Duhaime filling in for Dumba.

Asked what he was expecting from his former teammates on the rink, he said, “I’m expecting them to play me hard, and I’m sure we’ll have some laughs out there. But I’m excited for this one. I’m not sure what to really expect; I’m just going with the flow and trying to take it all in.”

Happy returns

The Wild are getting close to being whole again, something that hasn’t happened much this season.

Filip Gustavsson was in net Saturday for the first time since he was sidelined by a lower-body injury on Dec. 30, and Kirill Kaprizov returned from an upper-body injury suffered in the same game, a 4-2 loss at Winnipeg.

Brodin, Jared Spurgeon and Vinni Lettieri remain on injured reserve. According to hockey blog NHL Injury Viz, the Wild had lost a combined 113 games to injuries through Jan. 12, which ranked 14th in the NHL. San Jose, which leads the league with 29 losses, had lost a league-high 224.

Like Dean Evason before him, Wild coach John Hynes has kept a close eye on his injured players but focused on preparing the team he has available.

“You have to. It’s your job as coaches,” he said. “But you have to stay connected to the players that are out of the lineup, because it’s lonely for them too. You’re on the road, they’re not around, and these guys want to play, they want to be part of the team.

“So, I think it’s important that you still connect with those guys. But your focus has to be on the group that’s in the lineup and trying to maximize those guys and find ways to be able to get the team to play at a certain level and individuals to play at a certain level because that’s the only thing that you can control.”

Briefly

To make room for Gustavsson, the Wild sent Jesper Wallstedt back to their American Hockey League team in Iowa. Wallstedt, 21, made his NHL debut on Wednesday in Dallas, a 7-2 loss. “He left here more motivated,” Hynes said. “And I think that’s really good for him, and it’s good for us.”

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