Filipino-Canadian makes NHL history

Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Only one player with Filipino roots has made it to the National Hockey League (NHL) ranks and Fil-Canadian Matt Dumba, now seeing action for the Minnesota Wild, is in the record books for the breakthrough.

Dumba, 21, is on his third season with the Wild. He played in 13 games in 2013-14 and 58 last season. This campaign, the six-foot defenseman has scored two goals and four points in 12 games so far. Dumba’s not exactly turning the NHL upside down but as the only player with Filipino lineage ever to perform in the world’s premier professional hockey league, he deserves recognition. The NHL was organized in 1917-18 and operates out of New York City with 30 franchises, seven Canadian and 23 American. The NHL is to hockey what the NBA is to basketball.

Dumba was picked by Minnesota in the first round of the 2012 NHL entry draft and played for Canada at the 2014 World Junior Championships. Unless there is a rule allowing Dumba to play for another country because of heritage, he may not be eligible to skate for the Philippines at the Southeast Asian Games in 2017 and that’s even assuming pros will be allowed to suit up.

Another Filipino Jomar Cruz was selected by the Washington Capitals in the second round of the 1998 NHL entry draft. Cruz, 35, is the son of Filipino expats and was born in Canada. The 6-1 goalkeeper never made it to the NHL but played in four Western Hockey League (WHL) seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Tri-City Americans and Portland Winter Hawks. The WHL is a Canada-based major junior league. Cruz used to coach the Opaskwayak Cree Nation Blizzard in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and now manages the team.

Andrew Sharp, 31, is probably the most experienced pro hockey player with Filipino lineage ever although he never broke into the NHL. Sharp has played over 10 years in North American and European leagues. He made his mark with the Guildford Flames in the English Premier League and also played in the British Elite League. Known as a hard-nosed enforcer, he averaged 20 scraps a season during his prime.

Sharp was born in Manila to a British father and a Filipina mother Valentina de Leon. He moved to Quebec with his parents when he was six. Sharp owns and operates a hockey school called SharpShooter Hockey Training in Quebec during the summer when the 6-1 ring wing isn’t playing in England.

Dumba’s Filipina mother Treena was one of nine adopted children from all over the world by his grandmother Rose. In the NHL where 90 percent of the players are Caucasian, Dumba stands out because he looks more like his mother than his Romanian father Charles. Willie O’Ree broke the color barrier in the NHL in 1957, 40 years after the league was established.

Dumba will never forget his grandmother nor his cousins of various races. On his left arm is a rose tattoo with rosary beads falling from under the petals, a tribute to his grandmother Rose and his Catholic upbringing. On the left side of his torso is a large dragonfly, another tribute to his grandmother. It was inspired by the dragonfly that landed on his grandmother’s urn at her funeral.

“My grandmother was a saint,” said Dumba quoted by Phil Ervin in USA Today. “I don’t really ever think about race myself. That’s just kind of how my grandmother brought up my mom and that’s how my family is.”

Dumba was born in Saskatchewan, Canada, and began skating when he was three. At 16, Dumba gained 12 pounds of muscle working with personal trainer Tommy Powers and began to show real potential as a future NHL player. A younger brother Kyle is a goaltending prospect in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League.

Described by experts as an offensive defenseman with a heavy slap shot, Dumba established solid credentials in the WHL where he made his debut in 2009-10. He was the WHL’s rookie of the year and took the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy for his efforts. “Matt’s a guy who can do all aspects of the game,” said WHL coach Don Hay. “He’s a very dynamic player with or without the puck. He can lay out a good bodycheck but he can also score the overtime winning goal.”

Dumba made his first NHL appearance with the Wild against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 5, 2013. He scored his first NHL goal a week later against the Dallas Stars. That turned out to be his only goal that season. Dumba came back to notch eight goals and 16 points in 58 games for the Wild the next campaign.

No matter where the road will eventually take Dumba, his place in Philippine sports history is guaranteed. He’s the first and the only player with Filipino roots to make it in the NHL.

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