No one had to ask Western Hockey League reigning rookie of the year Mathew Dumba what he did this summer, at least during August.
The Red Deer Rebels dynamic defenceman was a newsmaker this month, enjoying a strong selection camp for the Canadian under-18 team and then captaining the national squad to a gold-medal conquest at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
And for good measure, the 17-year-old Calgary product participated in the NHL Research, Development and Orientation camp in Toronto, a gathering which showcased top prospects for the 2012 entry draft.
“It’s been a really busy August. Time has flown by and now it’s time for camp,” said Dumba, while undergoing fitness testing after registering for the Rebels training camp Saturday at the Centrium. “The whole month has been all about learning and having fun. It’s been a great experience.”
Clearly a natural leader, Dumba wore the ‘C’ with the Canadian U18 team with a great deal pride and modesty.
“It was easy to be captain with the group of guys we had,” he insisted. “We had a lot of great players who work hard and are respectful guys. I had a great time playing with them.”
The Canadian contingent fell 5-1 to Sweden in the tournament opener, then went 5-0 the rest of the way — outscoring their opponents 22-2 in the process — and avenged their lone setback with a 4-1 victory over Sweden in the gold-medal match.
“We had a great tournament,” said Dumba. “The first game was good for us as an eye-opener. It showed us the level of competition that we were up against and the calibre of players.”
Dumba, an excellent open-ice hitter with a big shot — he scored 15 goals and collected 26 points last winter — is still a work in progress regarding his defensive play, but he’s eager to improve that part of his game.
“I learned a lot overseas, the pace of the game was great,” he said. “It was good for me to work on my speed defending guys. I really embraced the role of being more of a defensive player over there and I’d like to use that a lot more here this season.”
Rebels general manager/head coach Jesse Wallin is convinced that Dumba will be an even better WHL player due to the time he spent with the national U18 team.
“All of those international experiences are great opportunities for players to develop,” he said. “Playing at the highest level against the best talent in your age group just elevates your game. It’s a huge developmental experience.
“Mathew had a great tournament and I expect him to be a guy who comes into training camp in a real good frame of mind and determined to make a real big impact this year and take his game up another notch. I’m excited for him. He’s still very raw, but there’s a lot of potential there and he’s a fun kid to work with. He’s got an exciting future.”
Dumba insisted that while he’ll concentrate more on his defensive duties during the 2011-12 WHL season, he’ll continue with his physical play and won’t hesitate to jump up into the play if the opportunity presents itself.
“Strong defensive play is a part of the game that I need to have,” he said. “You can’t go to the NHL without that defensive part of your game. I really want to be a two-way defenceman and I want to still have my physical game and offer an offensive flair. I want to contribute in every way.”
While he’s likely still a few years away from having the opportunity to play in the NHL, as a projected first-round pick in next year’s NHL entry draft Dumba can at least start thinking about his future as a pro.
“It’s a good thing to put in the back of your mind, but it can’t be something that’s going to take over my thinking,” said Dumba of the fact he’s entering his draft season. “I’m just going to go out there and have fun like I always do.”
Rebels training camp opened today at the Centrium with a rookie session at 8:30 a.m. The remaining camp schedule is as follows:
Sunday and Monday — Main camp from 10:15 to 11:15 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; goalie session from 1 to 2 p.m.; rookies from 2:30 to 4 p.m.; main scrimmage from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
Tuesday — Rookies from 8:30 to 10 a.m.; main camp from 10:15 to 11 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. to noon; Black and White scrimmage from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday — Team B pregame skate from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m.; Team A pregame skate from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.; McDonald’s Black and White intrasquad game at 7 p.m.