April 11, 2012 12:55 PM
As he jumps headfirst into a heated AHL playoff race, a crazy few days for Brian Dumoulin should only become more so.
On Wednesday, the former Boston College defenseman was on his way to Peoria to meet up with the Checkers, who he’ll join for the final three games of the regular season and potentially beyond, should they do well enough to qualify for the postseason. That comes just three days after winning the second NCAA National Championship of his three-year college career and officially deciding to forego his senior season by signing a contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.
“It happens so fast,” he said. “It feels like just yesterday we were in Tampa (site of the Frozen Four), and now I’m on my way to play for Charlotte. Sometimes you have to take a step back and enjoy the process.”
Having now completed an amateur career that included back-to-back, first-team All-America selections in addition to his team accomplishments, Dumoulin won’t get much of a chance to ease in to his first professional experience. The importance of his debut game can’t be overstated, as the Checkers will have a chance to jump back into a playoff position should they beat the Rivermen, themselves in the thick of the race, on Friday.
From there, it’s two additional games in the next two days, all of which are crucial to the team’s chances of playing more hockey next week.
“I know they’re fighting for a playoff spot on the road and there’s going to be a lot of teams competing,” said Dumoulin, the Hurricanes’ second-round draft pick in 2009. “I’m just excited.”
According to Ron Francis, an NHL Hall of Famer and the Hurricanes’ current director of hockey operations, Dumoulin should be able to help immediately.
“He’s accustomed to playing in high-level and intense games, and he’s handled it well,” said Francis, citing Dumoulin’s NCAA playoff experience and perfect record in the regional Beanpot tournament. “The bigger the game, he tends to play his best hockey, so I think he’ll be able to contribute with Charlotte.”
Though the Checkers had seven healthy defensemen at their disposal even without Dumoulin, the 20-year-old will jump into the lineup right away – a distinction reserved for only the best prospects. Though players often join AHL teams late in the season at the conclusion of their junior or college seasons, most are there to watch and learn.
“I know he’s a winner and that Carolina is very excited about him as a prospect,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels. “I haven’t decided exactly what’s going to happen, but I know they want to see him play.”
As for the inevitability of having to tell a more established player that’s been with the team for most if not all of season that he has to sit for someone the coach admittedly knows little about, it’s a situation that comes with the territory but nonetheless has the potential for some awkwardness.
“It can be, but we’re all in this together,” said Daniels.
Officially listed at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Dumoulin, if nothing else, has the physical attributes necessary to play at the next level. His numbers aren’t bad either, as he scored a total of 83 points (11g, 72a) and posted a plus-90 rating in 123 career games. Though it’s not always the case for players who dominate at the amateur level, Francis believes the offensive skills can translate to the pros.
“He makes a good first pass, is good on the power play and has a good shot,” said Francis. “He’s got a real good feel for the offensive zone and has a lot of weapons he can use.”
Based on that evaluation, the Hurricanes felt he was ready to start this season in the AHL, but Dumoulin instead chose to play one more year with the Eagles.
“I feel ready now, more than I did last year,” he said. “I feel like I improved a lot this season, overall and with leadership. I was finally an upperclassman this year, and we went through a lot of adversity. Even positionally, I made better decisions.”
Education was also a factor, as Dumoulin feels he now has a better chance of completing his marketing degree – something he thinks he’ll be able to wrap up with a few electives over the next two summers.
Though still tough to leave school, he said that the circumstances were ideal.
“It was nice to go out with a win, because now everyone is happy,” he said.
Former Checker Justin Faulk, who just completed a successful rookie season with the Hurricanes, went through the same process last year following his championship at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. In addition to being Carolina’s second-round picks in consecutive years, the two played on the same defensive pairing with the United States team at the 2011 World Junior tournament.
“Our hope is that he’s similar to Justin Faulk,” said Francis. “We want him to get in and learn about what the next step entails, have a good summer of working hard and then come back and contend for jobs at the next level.”
Dumoulin, who attended the Hurricanes 2009 rookie conditioning camp along with current Checkers Zac Dalpe, Mike Murphy and Matthew Pistilli, said that he exchanged text messages with Faulk over the last few days.
“He just said congrats and to enjoy it.”