Four days after being a final cut of the Canadian junior national team, Red Deer Rebels defenceman Mathew Dumba was able to smile.
Not that the disappointment of failing to make the squad for a second consecutive year wasn’t still lingering.
“It’s kind of tough getting cut, that’s a tough experience,” Dumba said Monday, prior to a practice session at the Centrium. “But I just have to be a man about it and carry on. I’m happy to be back here with the boys. It’s exciting what we’re doing here and I’m just putting all of my focus on that and having fun.”
The Canadian coaching staff didn’t have many — if any — explanations as to why Dumba was a hard-luck victim for a second straight year.
“I wasn’t told much . . . nothing really,” said the 18-year-old who was selected seventh overall by the Minnesota Wild in the 2012 NHL entry draft. “They said maybe next year will be my year, and wished me the best of luck with the rest of my season. It was pretty simple stuff. I’ll use it as motivation moving forward and next year push for a spot on that (national junior) team. I should be a better player a year from now.”
Dumba broke into the WHL as a 16-year-old and notched 15 goals and collected 26 points in 62 games. He was honoured as the league’s top rookie following the 2010-11 season.
Last winter was even more impressive in terms of his offensive output. The Calgary native reached the magical 20-goal mark and added 37 assists for 57 points in 69 outings.
But the current campaign hasn’t been a royal flush for the talented rearguard. After 33 games, he’s sitting with seven goals and 17 points, well off of his 2011-12 scoring pace.
Not to worry, Dumba insisted.
“The points will come,” he said. “I’m always going to have that offensive instinct, but to get to the next level, the pro level, you have to have that defensive game and that’s what I’m learning right now.
“My defensive game and decision-making have gotten way better. I’m really happy with that aspect of my game.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter felt for Dumba when the blueliner received the shattering news last week.
“It’s always hard when you get released from a team, especially when you’re trying out for a national team,” said Sutter. “I know this is the second time it’s happened to him, but he has to use it as a learning experience.
“The world junior championship is, for the most part, a 19-year-old tournament. To play at that level as an 18-year-old, you have to be a special player and have your A-game going at that point in time. I think the three games Matty played just before the selection camp were the best he’s played all season. He’s had a tough go to the season and yet he’s starting to find his game and it’s our job as coaches to help him through it and get him ready for next year, for pro hockey or whatever may come his way.
“We have to spend time with him and get his game to where it’s acceptable not just to ourselves and him, but also the Minnesota Wild.”
Bolton Pouliot will be back in the Red Deer net tonight and will remain with the club for the remainder of the season.
Spencer Tremblay, who was brought in a few weeks to provide Pouliot with some competition for the back-up role, guarded the Rebels net in a 6-1 loss Saturday to visiting Kelowna and injured his knee in the contest. As a result, he likely won’t be ready for further action until after No. 1 stopper Patrik Bartosak returns from the world juniors.
“It’s a tough one for Spence,” said Sutter. “He won’t be ready to play for maybe three weeks, so the decision now is that Bolton will stay here for sure. We’ll get Spence to a junior A team and look at bringing him back next fall.”
Grant Naherniak was brought in from his Moose Jaw midget AAA team and will be the Rebels backup until Bartosak returns.
Tonight’s game against the visiting Kootenay Ice is the last for the Rebels before the Christmas break. Red Deer will play a home-and-home with the defending WHL champion Oil Kings, Dec. 27 at Edmonton and the following night at the Centrium.