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When you line up all the Minnesota Wild players and pick your favorite, it could be anybody –Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Alex Stalock, Kevin Fiala, you name him.
But from now on, make sure Matt Dumba is high on your list of candidates.
Dumba is a promising young defenseman who rushes the puck with aban-don, moves in forcefully from the point, and shoots as though he’s trying to get the puck through the netting and the boards and maybe the outer wall of the arena.
But as of the start of the season, up in Edmonton where our pandemic-restricted NHL West teams are huddled, Dumba showed a maturity and a social presence far beyond his 26 years.
When the competition started with games on Saturday, while the Wild didn’t open until Sunday, Dumba was given permission to go out on the ice at Rogers Place before Edmonton took on the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday afternoon to open competition there. Both teams lined up around the center ice circle, and around Dumba, who is half Filipino and half Canadian, and he launched into a speech that was smooth and articulate, and incredibly emotional.
He talked about how all the players of color in the NHL, as well as all the white players, had to band together and with unity see to it that any hints of racism in the National Hockey League be eliminated. He spoke for almost three minutes, and if you saw it, you were hanging on every word.
This wasn’t some slick politician, reading from a teleprompter. It was a 26-year-old emerging star from the Minnesota Wild, spilling his heart out in Edmonton.
When he was done, Dumba dropped to one knee, and two players who flanked him, Chicago goaltender Malcolm Subban and Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse, put a hand on each of Dumba’s shoulders as though offering stabilizing support. Both are among the few black players in the NHL.
Between periods, they played a video Dumba had made, showing him driving along a South Minneapolis street, where walled up build-ings and the residue of destruction from the protests and animosity that had followed the police killing of George Floyd, which triggered enormous rallies throughout the U.S., and a reaction that seems possible to lead to real change in our racial attitudes.
Well, in the video, Dumba performed an Academy Award per-formance, speaking in low tones about his reaction to seeing all the damage and destruction in “my town,” he said.
Dumba is from Regina, Saskatchewan, one province this way from Alberta, where Edmonton is located. But every player on both the Oilers and Blackhawks, as well as all the Wild players, and every other NHL player, had to be overwhelmed with the dignity and poise Dumba showed in both his pre-tournament speech and the moving video that lasted several minutes. He remained on one knee during the U.S. “National Anthem” and stood up, with a clenched fist held high, during “O Canada.”
The Wild then went out Sunday night and played close to a perfect game, with Kevin Fiala glancing in a power-play shot from the right point in the first period, Jared Spurgeon scoring in the second, and then Spurgeon hitting an empty net with a 175-foot shot at the end of a 3-0 victory over Vancouver, as exUMD star Alex Stalock got the 28-save shutout to open the best-of-5 series.
Whatever happens as that series goes on, if you saw Matt Dumba’s amazing performances before the games, you’d share my feeling that he’s one of the Three Stars every night.
SPEAKING OF STRONG STARTS
It couldn’t have started any better in the return to our two major sports in one week.
Before the Wild resumed play in their dramatic playoff chase, the Minnesota Twins opened their season with the anticipated heavy hitting, and got amazing pitching from a group of guys many of us had never heard of.
After opening on the road, they came home to a deserted Target Field and kept it up, hammering the Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates to complete a 7-1 homestead and go back on the road with an outstanding 9-2 record.
Not a bad way to start this 60-game Major League Baseball sprint.
Nelson Cruz keeps making us forget he’s 40 years old and acting like a kid again. He got three hits on Tuesday as the Twins finished a two-game sweep against Pittsburgh, and Cruz left town with 17 hits in the first 11 games – the most ever by any Major Leaguer who had reached age 40.
While he pounded home runs in the opening road trip, he settled for a flurry of doubles and singles in the homestead, mostly, including a last-of-the-ninth RBI single to right center in the last of the ninth Monday night for a 5-4 victory over the Pirates.
In that one, Pittsburgh jumped ahead early and stretched the lead to 4-0 before the Twins got untracked for a 4-run rally to tie it. Then, after Cruz came through, the Twins had a 5-4 victory in which they never led until his walk-off single.
The Twins are loaded, and came out of the gate flying. They appear to have cohesiveness, they share the hitting honors, everybody seems to be able to pitch, and we’ll see if they can keep it going on the road trip.
Jose Berrios pitched six strong innings in the 7-3 win over Pitts-burgh Tuesday.
Good thing. It seemed like we were tempting fate to declare guys named Maeda, Dobnak, Bailey and Hill as the starting rotation. But now, it looks like they all have something to add in the depth department when things get rolling.
FOOTBALL IN SPRING?
The Minnesota State High School League has voted to move football and volleyball from the fall season to spring because of the pandemic. Maybe that’s a good move, because we don’t really know how bad it can get, and if it might simply negate the whole fall season anyway.
I am going to have a problem thinking about football in the spring, however, because Minnesota is famous for its late springs, and with football starting up just as hockey and basketball wind up with their tournaments, there is going to be a large battle for attention right about then.
Some college leagues have also moved football to spring, but high school is different, because the best athletes usually play more than one sport, and a football player might have trouble getting ready while concentrating on a winter sports state tournament.
Also, do they realize that the Twins will be starting up their next season in April, and it is going to make a logjam of events.
This spring we had nothing, next spring we’ll have too much!
HAMILTON, MERCEDES TOUGH
Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes – in black to stand up for Black Lives Matter – won again at Silverstone in the British Grand Prix last Sunday, and will be favored to win yet again in the United Kingdom’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix this coming Sunday. But rarely if ever will you see the closing drama where there had been none as at Silverstone.
Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate, Valtterri Bottas, were 1-2 from the start until the last four of 52 laps, while Max Verstappen was hustling to get a distant third.
But Bottas suffered a deflating tire and had to limp back to the pits to get a change, and that dropped him all the way to 11th. Verstappen was trailing Hamilton by 28 seconds, which is like going from Two Harbors to Duluth, and since tires were a problem, and his were fading, he and his crew made a decisive move and pitted on the next-to-last lap.
Unbeknown to the Red Bull-Honda team, Hamilton’s left front tire was shredding, and as he started the final lap, there was a question if he could make it.
Verstappen, on new tires, figured out what was going on and made a valiant charge on the next-to-last lap and then on the final lap.
“I got the countdown as the gap came down, from 19 seconds to 10, 9, 8, 7…” said Hamilton in the post-race interviews. “It was a heart-in-mouth feeling, because I could see the tire coming off its rim.”
Hamilton coaxed the McLaren around the final turn and got to the finish line, 7 seconds ahead of Verstappen, while Charles Leclerc in a Ferrari was third and Danny Ricciardo fourth.
Sebastian Vettel was 10th, just ahead of Bottas, but, of course, the question of the day was virtually self-answering: What would have happened if Verstappen had chosen to keep charging, and not pitted for tires?
The answer, of course, is that he would have flown past the struggling Hamilton in the last mile of the final lap.
The season championship is all but conceded to Hamilton, but the racing among the top 10 has been as wildly exciting as Formula 1 can produce.