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[Article] Dumba Takes Challenges In Stride En Route To NHL Draft

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Mathew Dumba confronted his fair share of setbacks this season. The Red Deer Rebels defenceman started the year slow. Then, in December, he failed to make the Canadian world junior team. And, a few months later, his Rebels failed to make the Western Hockey League post-season.

Dumba proved to be his own worst enemy at points during the tumultuous campaign.

"In mid-November he really started to struggle," said Rebels head coach and general manager Jesse Wallin. "We had a few players go down with injuries and Matty is one of those guys who wants to make a difference every time he's on the ice. He just tried to take everything on his own shoulders and do too much, forcing plays, rushing the puck when he didn't need to and really pressing the play as opposed to letting it come to him."

The hard-hitting teenager from Calgary was eventually able to get back on track thanks to his team's sports psychologist, Derek Robinson.


"He helped me a lot," said Dumba, who is expected to be a first-round pick at the NHL draft on Friday. "I'm an intense guy. I like to please everyone. He wanted me to relax and focus on school, my family and let other stuff come and go. He told me to enjoy it, lay back and watch TV and hang out with the boys and just enjoy this whole experience I'm going through as a 17-year-old."

Players on the Rebels don't have to talk to Robinson, but Dumba recognized how important it was to have a clear mind on the ice.

"I chose to do it to help with my game mentally. It's a huge part of the game. It's probably 50% physical and 50% mental. You have to be able to channel both and have them work together. That's what the great players do."

"The mental side of the game is so important in this day and age with the parity among players," said Wallin. "Everybody trains, everybody has developmental opportunities through the summer and through NHL teams and everything else. The mental side of the game is such a huge component and yet it may be the most under-utilized."


Dumba was emotional in the moments after he was cut by Team Canada in December. Voice cracking he insisted he expected to make the team despite being among the few draft-eligible players at the tryout.

Dumba did earn positive reviews from the Canadian coaching staff, but there were simply too many more experienced players to choose from. Among those who liked what they saw at the selection camp was Wallin.

"I watched him play one game down there and I thought he was outstanding," said Wallin, a defenceman who twice played for Canada at the world junior event winning gold in 1997. "It was one of the best games I'd seen him play in six weeks. I really think the biggest part of that was that he got out there with guys who were the top players in our country and they were all a year or two older than he was and he realized he had to keep it simple in order to survive and he did."


But Dumba initially failed to gain momentum from the strong camp showing.

"When he came back to Red Deer he was wound up and wanted to prove everybody wrong and he went, kind of, right back into that trying-to-do-too-much mode," said Wallin.

"We lost three defenceman for the season at the start of January and he really had to simplify his game just because of the sheer number of minutes he had to play and I think when he simplified his game it started to come back to him."

Dumba helped the Rebels make a playoff run, which came up just short.

"In Red Deer, if anybody watched our season, it was tough," said Dumba. "We went through a lot as a team with a ton of injuries, more than 300 man games lost. That's not an excuse by any means it's just a fact. It's tough to play like that, but it's a real testament to our team how we battled out of that situation and made a playoff push."


Dumba openly talks about his relationship with Robinson and how it was beneficial. And while some players are hesitant to speak candidly about using a sports psychologist it's really not a big surprise that Dumba would be forthcoming.

"I'm a guy who likes to talk," Dumba said with a laugh during the NHL combine earlier this month.

And that's another reason why he may be an attractive pick for teams at the draft in Pittsburgh.

"At the top of the list would be his personality," said Wallin when asked what is most impressive about the young blueliner. "He's a great kid, very outgoing, has a real genuine passion for the game. He brings a lot of energy to the rink and he plays with a lot of energy, a lot of passion.

"He's one of those guys you genuinely enjoy being around."


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