Last night’s game against the Wild was something else. If you missed it, at the end of the second period there was a large scrum. The lowlight of the event was Matt Dumba flipping Lucas Raymond and punching his head into the ice repeatedly while the refs were distracted breaking up the scrum. Raymond’s blood had to be cleaned off the ice between periods and the Red Wings unfortunately went on to lose the game in a shootout. You could have tuned in at nearly any moment and seen a pretty exciting hockey game between a heavy, physical Minnesota team and a fast, creative Red Wings team. It was a matchup between two different but entertaining playstyles on Star Wars night, where Detroit’s social media team had a fun time making puns on Twitter out of the theme. But the innocence and fun of the game was lost based on Dumba’s actions.
Let me give some background about myself, so readers can know where I’m coming from when I make this argument. As I’ve said in some past articles, I live in Minnesota, but I’ve lived most of my life in Michigan, from birth through my mid-twenties. When the Red Wings have failed to advance to the playoffs over the past several years, I’ve followed the Wild. Like a lot of Michigan ex-pats, my local team is my second team and I’d absolutely love to see the Stanley Cup paraded down West 7th in St. Paul. This feels important to state because I don’t want to come off as a total homer in this situation. In fact, when I first became interested in blogging I was going to fill out an application for whichever team’s SBnation site had an opening first; it just so happened that Winging it in Motown was looking for writers before Hockey Wilderness.
I’ll also be forward and say that Matt Dumba has never been my favorite player for the Wild. Like a lot of Wild fans, I was caught up in admiration of the advanced stats darling, Nino Niederreiter, for a long time. I love the calm, collected play of Jonas Brodin. And I never really appreciated Eric Staal until he came to Minnesota. Dumba, on the other hand, is a guy I’ve always seen as a high-talent role player; his defensive lapses have gotten less frequent over the years, but he’s given up some heartbreaker goals for Minnesota as well. For whatever reason, I can never get attached to that category of defenseman.
If you look at the clip here, you can see Dumba flip Raymond at about the thirty second mark. Matt Dumba holds Raymond for a few seconds. You can see that Raymond’s arms are pretty well pinned; he can’t very well strike at Dumba. Dumba takes enough time here to consider his actions, to consider what he will do next. What he then decides to do is punch Lucas Raymond in the head five times.
Raymond’s head hits the ice multiple times, and we can see the blood. Cuts to the head can sometimes look worse than they are; the head can bleed a lot from a relatively minor injury because there is a lot of blood floating around the skull, but that’s because, y’know, there’s a brain in there that needs all that blood. It’s fortunate that Lucas Raymond was okay, but the odds of him being seriously injured by Dumba’s actions were very great, far greater than any routine hockey play, including a square fight.
Dumba would later refuse fighting Michael Rasmussen and Filip Hronek, which flies in the face of the hockey code. It would be an understandable reaction had Dumba done something like thrown a hit on Raymond that fell into that grey area between clean and over-the-line. I’d be able to empathize there. But there is no subtlety in what you can see in the video, no room for interpretation. What’s worse is that Dumba furthermore showed zero remorse for his actions, publicly giving comments such as “He was on my back and choking me, and I slipped out of it and (was) kinda just seeing red at a point. I was just swinging, swinging back. I think everyone was throwing shots, so just part of it.”
Raymond initially had an arm around Dumba’s neck, but after Dumba started thrashing, Raymond adjusted his arm around under Dumba’s arm. Raymond has Dumba in a headlock for all of one second. And if you’ve ever won hockey gear, you’d understand how hard the chest protector with its shoulder pads makes it difficult for anyone to get any sort of leverage around a neck.
Dumba would then go on to tell reporters that the altercation and the fan reaction was, “Nothing I couldn’t handle,” and “The boos were kinda funny, though. I wasn’t expecting that.” Statements like these show the player’s arrogance and insecurities. And shouldn’t he expect the home crowd to be booing him? Or perhaps not. He seems to believe that he did nothing wrong.
Dylan Larkin pointed out the hypocrisy better than I can. “I just think it’s different if someone does that to Kaprizov, you know? I don’t really know what the right comment is there. I don’t have anything good to say,” he said after the game. And he makes a great point. Wild fans would be screaming bloody murder had Adam Erne blasted Kirill Kaprizov’s head while the young star was in a defenseless position, and they would have absolutely every right to be furious, and to call for Adam Erne’s suspension. I’d be calling for it, too, because punching a defenseless player has no place in the game.
In the online battlegrounds that shed a lot of heat but no light on situations like these, Minnesota fans can come back with barbs about Todd Bertuzzi to imply that Red Wings fans have no ground for criticism. Afterall, Detroit kept Bert around for several years, and he ended the career of another player with a punch. Now granted, Todd Bertuzzi punched Steve Moore several years before he played for the Wings, but it was still an awful thing he did. However, no mistake of Todd Bertuzzi’s, nor any other Red Wing, has any bearing on Matt Dumba punching Lucas Raymond’s head repeatedly into the ice. To argue otherwise is classic whatabout-ism, and only serves to derail the conversation.
This isn’t some case of Dumba serving out vigilante justice for a dirty hit Raymond laid earlier in the game. He was mad he was put into a headlock, then a shoulder lock, and forced down to the ice. Only a few feet away, Eriksson Ek had Larkin in a similar hold. Both of their tempers were extremely high, yet neither of them was trying to literally crack the other’s head open on the ice. There is no argument where Dumba’s actions can be viewed as defensible or within the norm of the NHL in 2022.
I can someday come to forgive Dumba, at least to a degree. I can’t stay angry forever, and I don’t want to. But for now I’m still sore; I’m still feeling a sort of betrayal between the two homes I have to make coexist within myself. It’s easy for all of us to be rash in these moments, to want Dumba to be punished vindictively. Hell, I wanted to see Ras ragdoll him last night. But I think I can push my head through the fog long enough to see the situation clearly and know that the Department of Player Safety needs to come to a sensible conclusion about Dumba’s attack on Raymond. I am not optimistic, but for the good of the game, they ought to do something. What Matt Dumba did was without class, without honor, and without respect.