EDMONTON, Alberta – A microphone clutched in his right hand, Wild defenseman Matt Dumba walked to center ice Saturday afternoon inside Rogers Place in Edmonton and exhaled.
He had just been waiting in the wings with teammates Jonas Brodin and Alex Galchenyuk and, sensing Dumba was nervous, the two tried to divert his attention elsewhere. They had music playing and were listening to him rehearse his speech.
"If you've got the nerves to handle this," Galchenyuk told Dumba, "nothing can stop you tomorrow or in this playoff run."
Once it was time to go, Dumba felt like a fighter entering the ring.
And after he took that deep breath, lifted the microphone and started to share the words he memorized Friday after piecing them together Wednesday and Thursday, Dumba became the face of hockey's fight against racial injustice.
"All the strength that it took to do it, it came from all the people who have supported me along the way," Dumba said Sunday ahead of the Wild's playoff opener later that evening against Vancouver. "My family, got to thank them, and especially the members at the (Hockey Diversity Alliance). Hearing those guys' stories and everything we talk about has given me the courage to do the things that I've done."
Following his nearly three-minute message to a national TV audience in the United States and Canada, Dumba became the first NHLer to kneel during the U.S. national anthem.
He then stood up for the Canadian national anthem but said Sunday he regrets doing that.
"To be honest, I kind of froze up," Dumba said on a video call from the Wild's hotel. "I know why I knelt. It wasn't a sign of disrespect by any means. It was to shed light on the people who have lived through the injustice and oppression, especially in my home state of Minnesota. That's why I did it.
"I think my biggest regret is not doing it for the Canadian national anthem, as well, because there is a lot of light that needs to be shed on what is happening in Canada and the oppression First Nations people have felt for hundreds of years. I was disappointed looking back on it because, like I said, I knew the reasons why I knelt. Just in the moment it happened like that."