Wild's Dumba a colorful personality
By Chad GraffSt. Paul Pioneer Press ST. PAUL -- Matt Dumba doesn't know his exact racial heritage, but it didn't take him long to notice he was different from nearly every other hockey player. With his dark skin, the Wild defenseman felt singled ...
By Chad Graff
St. Paul Pioneer Press
ST. PAUL - Matt Dumba doesn’t know his exact racial heritage, but it didn’t take him long to notice he was different from nearly every other hockey player.
With his dark skin, the Wild defenseman felt singled out on the ice when he was younger and often was called names.
“When you’re little, kids are mean,” Dumba said. “I think once you get to this level and in juniors, people have some sense. But little kids are definitely mean.”
Willie O’Ree became the first person of color to play in an NHL game in 1957, playing two games for the Boston Bruins before before returning to play most of the 1960-61 season in Boston. More than half a century later, the NHL remains 90 percent white.
Dumba, however, is one of a handful of players slowly changing the traditional face of the NHL.
The Minnesota Wild selected Dumba, 20, seventh overall in the 2012 draft. The following year, Seth Jones (fourth overall by Nashville) and Darnell Nurse (seventh, Edmonton) were top picks, and Joshua Ho-Sang was picked 28th overall by the New York Islanders in the 2014 draft. All are persons of color.
The Wild defenseman grew up as part of a large, multiracial family in Calgary, Alberta.
“I don’t ever really think about race myself,” Dumba said. “That’s just how my grandma brought up my mom and how my family is.”
Dumba’s grandmother, Rose, adopted nine children, each a different nationality, including Dumba’s mother, Treena, who was adopted as a young child and doesn’t know what race her parents were; a mix of many is all she knows.
Dumba’s father, Charles, is white. His cousins are of Jamaican, Vietnamese and First Nations - the various aboriginal people in Canada who are neither Inuit or Metis - descent. Family reunions, he said, are “just wild, so much fun.”
But as a young hockey player, he learned diversity wasn’t valued by everyone.
“I had some conflicts when I was younger,” he said. “It’s hard to stay away; it’s hard to keep yourself level-headed when you’re that age. Facing that stuff sucks.”
When Dumba lost his cool, his parents would sit him down and tell him that couldn’t happen. His mother, he said, was especially adamant.
“She was always really heated about it when it did arise,” Dumba said. “It happened on a couple occasions where another player said something to me. You don’t have to repeat that stuff, but being a bigger person at the end of the day is kind of what it came down to.”
The tenor of those talks, he said, were “about respecting everyone no matter what they look like, what they believe in or their opinions.”
Dumba said race hasn’t been an issue for him since youth hockey. Still, there are reminders. Sometimes when his family is at a restaurant, employees won’t associate his father with the rest of the family.
“He’s about 5-foot-7, kind of looks like the Pringles man,” Dumba said. “I’m like 6-feet tall, dark … handsome.”
His exhilarating offensive game and easy wit could make Dumba a face of a league trying to promote diversity. After coughing before an interview during training camp, he quipped, “I should probably stop smoking cigarettes.”
Dumba long has planned for the success he’s beginning to find.
At 16, Dumba and his personal trainer, Tommy Powers, spent a week working at Sidney Crosby’s house thanks to an invitation from Powers’ mentor Andy O’Brien, who is Crosby’s trainer.
Crosby’s house sat on an edge of a secluded lake. It had a shooting range in the back yard so he could work on his hockey shot. A pair of jet skis were decorated with Crosby’s No. 87 on their sides. On the flight home, Dumba took out a notebook and drew a picture of his future house.
He drew a driving range on the roof (from which he could hit golf balls into a lake) and an Audi R8, Dumba’s favorite car, in the driveway.
“He’s got a great personality that way,” said Powers, now the Florida Panthers’ strength coach. “He’s really driven and loving and giving.”
He’s also confident.
Powers helped Dumba gain 12 pounds of muscle last summer. They worked out every day and often played golf in the afternoon because Dumba liked to organize events together.
It’s something he gets from his family, which always seem to have something going on.
“Whenever I go over to his family’s house, there’s always so many different people there, and they’re all so loving,” Powers said. “It’s always entertaining.”
And diverse. Each of Dumba’s aunts and uncles is a different race.
“Then there’s me,” he said, “and I’m like four different nationalities, all different races. But I guess that’s just how the world is becoming today. Everyone has a little bit of something.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.