Fri Dec 02 06:15pm EST
The Red Deer Rebels' Mathew Dumba was rewarded for his strong play on the back end this week with an invitation to tryout for Canada's world junior team.
Dumba's high level of tenacity and truculence will make him stand out from the crowd at the tryout. The native of Calgary, AB., always brings a lot of energy to the ice and often shifts the momentum in favour of his team with an explosive play.
"I try and make something happen every shift," says Dumba. "Whether it's a fight, a hit or a goal - I just want to make an impact out there anyway I can."
Being 17-years-old will likely work against Dumba. Hockey Canada usually builds the blueline around 18- and-19-year-old defenders. But they have made exceptions for younger players in the past, such as, Los Angeles Kings' Drew Doughty and Toronto Maple leafs' Luke Schenn, who helped Canada win gold at the 2008 tournament prior to their day on the draft floor.
"There's no doubt Dumba's a very good young player and he'll get a shot at making the world junior team, but he'll probably have to wait another year," says Kirk Fraser, play-by-play announcer for Shaw's WHL telecasts. "There's a lot of very good older defencemen for Hockey Canada to choose from, so it leaves very little room for Dumba, despite his abilities."
Dumba's exciting style of play has elicited comparisons to Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, a former Rebel. The Red Deer connection has a lot to do with the comparison, but the two have a lot of shared traits. The most evident is that their ability to deliver huge open-ice hits and end-to-end rushes make them high risk, high reward players.
"I'm honoured to be compared to someone as good as Phaneuf," says Dumba, who has seven goals and 18 points in 25 games. "He's had a great career. They still talk about him in Red Deer and he's just a great player."
The way Phaneuf's high-tempo play boosted Canada's energy and helped them win gold at the 2005 world junior leads one to think Dumba could have a similar impact for Canada someday. He is the type who could be counted on for an electrifying shift if Canada ends up behind the eight-ball late in a game. Momentum-altering plays can have a lot of weight in a short tournament, especially for a Canadian program which has sometimes had the wind knocked out of it in recent years by questionable goals sneaking past their netminders.
Anyone who vaguely follows the top 2012 draft prospects knows Dumba is part of the Western Hockey League's elite defensive crop. The 6-foot, 173-pounder was ranked third among WHL skaters by NHL's Central Scouting Service in their preliminary rankings. He was also ranked 10th among all draft eligible players by Mckeen's Hockey.
"I don't follow the draft rankings that much," says Dumba. "They don't really mean that much since those aren't the guys who are drafting the players. I'm just going to continue to focus on hockey and not let the rankings bother me."
The 5 Questions
1. How did your off-season training go? Do you feel a difference in strength or speed this season?
"My training went well. I gained about five pounds in the off-season. I'm definitely a bit stronger and faster this year."
2. Have you set any goals for this season?
"Not really. I'm just focused on the team. The goals and points will come along with working hard. I just want to focus on helping my team win."
3. There's a lot of Phaneuf comparisons out there. Do you try and model your game after him or is there a different defenceman out there that you try to emulate?
"I try and play like [the Los Angeles Kings'] Drew Doughty. I like how he moves the puck and also how he makes big hits out there. He's obviously a great defenceman and I just try and take parts of his game and add it to my own."
4. Who do you think is the hardest forward to play against in the Dub?
"There's a lot of good forwards in this league. Probably [Medicine Hat Tigers star] Emerson Etem. He was a first-round pick and he's a very good player. Definitely one of the harder guys to contain."
5. With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins getting a lot of draft attention last year, were you able to learn from him by watching how he handled the media and prepared himself on a nightly basis?
"I definitely took notice of how he acted. He showed a lot of respect for people. And when it came to games he was always very prepared and worked very hard. He's worked hard to get where he is and I'm just going to continue to work and hopefully it will pay off for me like it did for him."
Kelly Friesen is a Western Hockey League writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen (Image credit WHL.ca)