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NHL SNAPSHOTS: Dumba's speech rocks Day 1 of playoffs

Minnesota Wild defenceman Matt Dumba takes a knee during the U.S. national anthem before Saturday's game.
Minnesota Wild defenceman Matt Dumba takes a knee during the U.S. national anthem before Saturday's game.

There has never been a playoff like this — certainly not a Game 1 gesture like Matt Dumba’s in Edmonton.

The Minnesota Wild defenceman became the first NHLer to take a knee during the U.S. anthem, though Saskatchewan-born, he stood for O Canada .

It came after his speech to a massive broadcast audience emphatically underlining his and others commitment to fight racial injustice. Goalie Malcom Subban of the Blackhawks and defenceman Darnell Nurse of the Oilers stood by Dumba during the Star Spangled Banner , their hands on his shoulders.

The NHL has begun hearing from critics on its own teams that it’s not following through with a promise to spotlight the racism issue. Before the hometown Oilers met Chicago to open the Western Conference hub, a video saluting front-line health care workers and urging action on racism was shown.

Dumba then came to centre in a sweatshirt promoting Hockey Diversity Alliance, a group of NHL players of colour formed in the spirit of change after the killing of George Floyd on May 25.

To a North American audience with the game on NBC, Dumba began his comments hoping the playoffs could “bring a little normality and peace of mind to these times of uncertainty,” before getting emotional.

“I’ll transition to a topic that’s very important to me, my fellow members of the HDA and the NHL. During this pandemic, something unexpected, but long overdue occurred. The world woke up to the existence of systematic racism and how deeply rooted it is in our society. For those unaffected or are unaware, I’m sure some of you believe that this topic has garnered too much attention these last couple of months. Let me assure you it has not. Racism is a man-made creation, (it’s) everywhere and we need to fight against it.

“I know first-hand, as a minority playing the great game of hockey, the unexplainable and difficult challenges that come with it. The Alliance and the NHL want kids to feel safe, comfortable and free-minded every time they enter the arena.”

Dumba also referenced Black Lives Matter and Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by police in Louisville, Ky., in March.

“I stand in front of you on behalf of those groups and promise that we will fight against injustice and for what is right. I hope this inspires a new generation of hockey players and hockey fans. Because Black Lives Matter. Breonna Taylor’s life matters. Hockey is a great game, but it could be a whole lot greater.”

PRAISE FOR DUMBA

The Maple Leafs, practising in Toronto in preparation for Game 1 of their best-of-five series against Columbus, were impressed with Dumba’s deed.

“It was very powerful and he should be proud,” defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “We want to be sure we give him support and make sure we try and fix this.”

Seated next to Rielly, Auston Matthews lauded Dumba’s courage to face such a large audience and called his words “extremely moving.”

Travis Dermott intimated this wasn’t a cause he knew a whole lot about before 2020, but felt the team and HDA has been proactive.

“As someone who hasn’t obviously been affected by this as much as others, the best thing you can do is have an open ear,” Dermott said.

“We’ve never been put in those shoes,” Mitch Marner added. “Now, hearing it, seeing it, stuff been happening way too long. We have to really start making a change, including every culture, and it starts now.”

DO YOUR STUFF, KID

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe gave 18-year-old Nick Robertson a little advice before confirming he’ll be in the lineup Sunday.

“I said the Montreal exhibition game was a good step, good experience, but I reminded him it’s going to be a lot harder, starting tomorrow. We’re anxious to see how he can handle it. I believe he can. That’s why we’re putting him in.”

The 55-goal Peterborough Pete will play left wing on third line with Alex Kerfoot and right winger Kasperi Kapanen, where he has shone most of camp.

“He’s a guy with a great skill set, who can make a difference offensively,” Keefe said. “The big thing we’ve seen is his work habits, the way he skates, the way he’s on the puck.”

Swift winger Liam Foudy, straight out of the OHL’s London Knights, will play for Columbus as a nice balance in the series.

THE TORTS REPORT

Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella began his Saturday press conference with a message of support for ailing former NHLer Dale Hawerchuk in his battle with cancer. But that was about as expressive as he got.

He refused to name Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins as his starting goalie, except to say he was comfortable with both. He said he “knew nothing about (Frederik) Andersen” at the other end and didn’t want to talk about the congratulatory message he gave his former Tampa Bay player Keefe when the latter was named head coach of the Leafs in November.

LOOSE LEAFS

Winger Andreas Johnsson was in the main Leafs practice group a second day, an indication his surgically repaired knee is ahead of schedule. Though Keefe hinted that was the case, he added that lack of ice time at Ford Performance Centre with so many teams there has forced the Leafs to condense workouts to include fringe players … Marner said he gave up and left the latch off his door at the Royal York Hotel as so many teammates have come in and out of his room to hang out, play video games or talk.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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