Hockey is a game that involves balance and strength. Skaters learn to balance on thin blades of steel strapped to their feet at young ages. They develop strength in their legs to glide across the ice at blazing-fast speeds. Arms strengthen to increase shot power, and the keen hand-eye coordination that grows offers just the right amount of finesse.
Of course, the ability to withstand the beating a body takes game-in and game-out is another feat of strength, though one that requires mental strength to fight through it all and perform at high levels.
The construction of teams also strive for balance and strength — a symmetry, if you will. There are fast skaters, slower ones, sharp-shooters, danglers and others that just throw everything but the kitchen sink at goalies to score and win games. Shooting hands strategically placed around the line-up to offer balance, while lines are constructed to maximize the strengths of each player.
Matt Dumba offers that balance and strength to his defensive partner Jonas Brodin. Dumba provides the scoring punch, Brodin masters the defense. Dumba offers physicality. Brodin with the better positioning and stick of the two.
Dumba and Brodin, along with Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon have formed arguably the best top four in the National Hockey League at limiting chances to the opposition. Oh, and with Dumba, Spurgeon and Suter leading the way offensively, the tandems are a dual threat, offering balance and strength.
However, the Wild, like many teams across all levels of hockey, lack diversity on their roster. With J.T. Brown assigned to the Iowa Wild, Jordan Greenway and Dumba remain the Wild’s only players of color.
Now Dumba is finding the strength to use his voice to improve upon that imbalance.
After the world witnessed the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd on Memorial Day, and the subsequent protests, there’s been a surge in pro athletes using their voice to join the cause. The Wild released a statement that offered condolences to Floyd’s family, but was more of a call to not be “divisive.” Many Wild players were eerily quiet on their social media accounts.
Minnesota natives spoke out, including a forthright response from Blake Wheeler. Minnetonka’s K’Andre Miller reflected on his first conference call as a member of the New York Rangers. It was a moment for Miller that was supposed to be a happy, joyous occasion for him and his family, and it was completely robbed by someone who hijacked the Zoom call he was on by plastering racial slurs across the call’s chat.
Dumba offered a heartfelt response on Twitter, punctuating it with “I AM AN ANTI-RACIST” in all caps.
Dumba has now put that voice into action. With Akim Aliu, Evander Kane, Trevor Daley, Wayne Simmonds and former Wild players Joel Ward and Chris Stewart, they’ve created the Hockey Diversity Alliance.
The mission is to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey. The HDA is independent of the NHL and looks to focus on all levels of hockey through community outreach and youth engagement.
The racism and intolerance really is something that has permeated to all levels of hockey, including youth hockey.
Going back to Miller’s statement, he said that he had players, parents and coaches that exhibited varying levels of racism towards him as a youth player. Mind you, he grew up in Minnesota, and therefore played for Minnesota Hockey during his formative years.
The community-based model that Minnesota champions year after year as Minnesota kids play across the country in many levels of hockey, and especially the NHL. Those youth years are supposed to be fun. Just kids enjoying the game, and as they grow up, hopefully they can play in the Minnesota State Hockey Tournament. For Miller, he looks back at those years with some negativity because of the racism he experienced from the people around him.
The Hockey Diversity Alliance looks to get rid of those negative experiences that both Miller and Aliu had to help future generations.
Dumba echoed similar experiences on the ice in his past. Though he has remained vague about specific experiences, he has maintained that it hasn’t happened in the NHL.
For Dumba to get his game back to where it was two seasons ago when he hit 50 points, he’ll need to find that balance between offense and defense. He needs to find that zone to unleash the strength that is his slap shot. But Dumba’s strength off the ice to fight racism and intolerance means that he’s balanced being a player and an activist, too.
Wild fans can find peace in knowing that one of their favorite players is leading the charge to make hockey truly for everyone.