BRNO – If you search the name Matt Dumba on Youtube, chances are you’ll come across more than a few highlight reel clips of the 17-year-old Canadian hammering opponents and delivering devastating open ice hits in the Western Hockey League.
Now, with Dumba serving as Team Canada’s captain at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship, teams around the world are now getting a first-hand look one at the top 2012 NHL draft prospects. Come the end of the tournament, a few of the players from the Czech Republic, Russia, USA, or any of the other participating teams might sport a few bruises from an encounter with the 17-year-old defenceman for the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels.
They probably won’t see him coming either. Despite a reputation for laying on big open ice hits and constantly playing with a physical edge, Dumba isn’t nearly the biggest guy on the ice, weighing in at only 174 pounds (79 kg).
“He’s not a big guy, people are always surprised when they meet him off the ice,” said Team Canada head coach Jesse Wallin. “His mobility in changing direction forward to backward, side to side on his skates and having good edge control is the key to his open ice hits.”
Aside from his checking ability Dumba is also blessed with a very hard shot. These natural skills, along with his maturity and work ethic, have helped place the Calgary native in consideration as a high draft pick.
“I guess the physical part of my game gets talked up a lot because it gets the fans going and gives a big spark for the team, but at the same time I feel some of my other skill sets are overlooked,” says Dumba. “I think I am a very versatile guy, I have a good shot on the power play and I pass and skate at a high level. All of these things I’m always working on, because I don’t want to be known for just one aspect of my game.”
Matt’s stint in Red Deer has been productive to say the least. In his first full season he registered 26 points in 62 games, and followed that up in 2011-12 with a 57-point campaign in 69 games. Despite filling up the stat sheet, Dumba had a rough end to the season. He was among the latest cuts for Canada’s 2012 U20 team, something he has used as motivation in this U18 tournament.
“The biggest thing I took from it was going out and playing against the top guys in the country, I really thought that I had a great camp and that I went there and gave it my all,” he said. “Looking back I was really disappointed because it was a goal and a dream of mine to be on that team, but at the same time I got to walk away from it knowing that I couldn’t have done anything more.”
Soon after being cut from the team, the Rebels were eliminated from playoff contention in what was an injury-plagued season for the Alberta team.
“There was a point in time when we were playing with only four defencemen, and I was playing in the power play and penalty kill and soaking up 35 minutes a night, he said. “It was tough but I’m thankful that it happened and that I faced all that adversity at a young age.”
That maturity and approach to the game made Dumba a natural choice as Team Canada’s U18 captain, both in the 2012 World Championship and in the Ivan Hlinka tournament last summer, where Dumba wore the “C” all the way through Canada’s gold medal run.
“He’s a presence in the dressing room, he’s very well respected and he’s mature beyond his years in how he approaches the game," said Wallin. "His preparation and how he takes care of his body…in many ways he’s already a professional. He plays with a lot of energy and a lot of passion and I think his teammates feed off of that and respect him for it, so he was an obvious choice for us.”
Matt first began skating in Regina, Saskatchewan. His first time on the ice is a typical story of a Canadian kid growing up in the prairies, a land so flat that if the family dog runs away you can watch him run for a week.
“In Regina my dad built a rink in the backyard, we lived outside the city boundaries and had a big piece of land and a lot of flat ground so it was easy to build a rink,” he said. “That’s the first time I laced them up and I was out there pretty much all the time just learning how to skate and things took off from there.”
Probably the first person to feel the strength of a Matt Dumba slap shot was his brother Kyle, four years younger than Matt.
“We had a backyard rink in Calgary too, when I was little we were on it every day and I would practice shooting and he would try and stop me,” said Dumba. “He’s a pretty tough little guy to stand in there for all the shots and he loves playing goalie so it worked out for us both.”
“One night he was wearing these terrible street hockey pads and asked me to take a slap shot saying he’d save it. He just kept taunting me and taunting me and eventually I took the shot and hit him square in the leg, he was bawling his eyes out and our mom came out and gave me heck.”
But all those bruises have paid off. Kyle Dumba, now 14, is a goaltender in Calgary’s bantam triple A league, a very rare accomplishment for a goaltender at that age, and could go high in the next WHL draft.
As for big brother, he is getting ready to face the three-time defending champions United States in Canada’s final game of the preliminary round. Dumba knows that his team is in for a challenge, but he’s looking forward to the chance to go toe-to-toe with the Americans.
“Our philosophy is to play by three R’s: relentless, responsible, resilient… and those are things we’re gonna live by in this tournament,” he said. “It’s Canadian hockey, it’s gritty, it’s greasy, it’s getting pucks on net, it’s banging bodies, making hard plays all over the ice, and I feel we have those skills and they will come in handy when we need to use them.”
One thing’s for sure, the U.S. forwards better skate with their heads up when No. 24 is on the ice…especially if they want to stay off Youtube.