By: Shane Kehl
It was late February and the Christopher Newport University (CNU) Hockey Team was facing off against the University of South Carolina (USC) in the 2013 South Regional Tournament. Late in the game the teams were tied up at one a piece and after a scrum for a loose puck in front of the net one of the USC players lost his balance and fell directly onto a prone Eric Dumas, goaltender for the CNU Captains. Eric was slow to get back up and one could almost hear the coaches, players, and CNU fans gasp in unison – reason being, the Captains didn’t have another goalie that could go into the game if he was seriously hurt. As Eric rose back to his skates and assumed his position between the pipes there was an uncertainty surrounding the team as to whether he was alright, or if he was equally aware that he was the heart and soul of a team that he carried on his back all year. At this point Eric felt that it “…didn’t seem to serious at the time” and continued on with the game.
A team’s worst nightmare? Losing a top player to injury. According to the coaches and players of the Christopher Newport University (CNU) Ice Hockey Team, Eric Dumas, starting goaltender for the Captains, is the anchor of the team and a vocal leader on and off the ice. “He’s been the reason we won games that we were not supposed to win. He’s the one carrying the team,” says Kyle Jahn. “When we were playing the University of South Carolina one of their players fell on me and I felt a pop.” Eric Dumas is a senior at Christopher Newport University and has been the starting goaltender for the ice hockey since his freshman year. In the last game of his sophomore season a player from USC fell on him and since then his groin has never felt the same. His road to recovery didn’t begin until over a year after his torn labrum, and Eric continues to travel that road each day with no end in sight.
Several months later Eric was still sore from the teams’ last game and thought that maybe it was more than just a pulled groin, like he originally anticipated. He stated, “It never got better and then I realized one day, towards the end of summer, that I couldn’t even run.” By the time he saw a doctor and received the recommendation to get surgery the next season was only weeks away, meaning Eric would forfeit an entire year of playing hockey and set the team up for almost instant failure. In very simple terms he said, “I put it off, the team didn’t have another goalie – I couldn’t abandon them like that.” Eric played an entire season with torn labrums, in his right and left groin, and could only attend practice once a week due to the tightness he suffered after being on the ice for an extended period of time. He describes it as “…a general burning sensation along with really intense tightness.” During certain times in a game a goalie is required to slide from one post to the other as quickly as possible, which one can imagine would be incredibly difficult with two torn labrums, and when Eric had no other option but to do this he described his groin as “pushing up against his skin,” almost as an attempt to erupt from the flesh and escape the agonizing pain he would suffer each time.
Another season had passed and Eric finally decided that it was time for surgery. In hopes of missing as few games as possible he had his first surgery on March 7, 2015, and his second on March 28, 2015. Eric’s surgeries consisted of repairing his two torn labrums along with an osteoplasty, which is a type of surgery performed on the hip joint for the purpose of altering the rim of the socket and/or the ball that sits within the joint. The reason for the osteoplasty was because “I had bone spurts, meaning my hip sockets had bumps all over it, rather than being smooth and rounded.” These bone spurts are most likely the reason he suffered two torn labrums – the rigid sockets rubbed against his groin and probably caused the two tears.
Eric began physical therapy right away and pushed himself to the limit from the moment he began. “PT was pretty rough at first. I did about three to four months of intensive PT; after my second surgery was when it really picked up. I did aquatic therapy to begin, which consisted of treadmill walking underwater, body weight squats in the water, and other similar exercises until I had the strength to do the same workout on land. This whole time I was doing other exercises, stretching, and going through a bunch of other stretches from my physical therapist.” Additionally, Eric said that he was unable to run for three months, which he claims was one of the worst parts that he will never take for granted again. “The worst part about physical therapy was waiting around to run. Once I could run I knew I would be close to playing again, but it seemed to drag on forever.” Once all of the physical therapy had been completed Eric was back on the ice on August 19, which was a little over a month earlier than the doctors had expected.
Eric was back by the start of training camp at the end of August and was looking forward to getting back to hockey with the rest of the team. He completed training camp with no issue and felt as if he may finally be 100%, which hadn’t been the case for over a year and a half. “It felt good to be back on the ice with the guys and know that I could be performing at a high level without any issues.” The team was overjoyed to have Eric back and thought that with his health no longer being an issue the team could reach new levels that year, according to senior forward Kyle Jahn. With games only a week away the anticipation was mounting and the guys on the team were itching to get back on the ice for their first game of the 2015-2016 season.
Unfortunately, once the games began Eric started feeling pain in his groin again and knew that this would be a lingering issue. He decided to keep quiet about it, as to not put a damper on the high hopes that the team had for the season. “I didn’t want to tell the boys I didn’t feel right, it didn’t seem fair to them after everyone’s hopes were so high, especially the other seniors I had been playing with the last four years.” By keeping his injury to himself, Eric put an insurmountable amount of pressure on himself to perform at a level that caused him agonizing pain. This wasn’t just the usual stiffness of a slightly pulled muscle; the way he described it made it seem as if his groin was almost attempting to puncture his skin just to escape the burning sensation that lasted for hours after an intense practice or game.
Eric played the entire year with essentially the same injury he had been suffering from for the entirety of the previous year. “I just couldn’t think about not playing. The guys battle for me every game, I felt as if I had to do the same for them.” Despite such a pain-filled season Eric still managed to be one of the top goalies in the South Region for wins and led his team to Regionals for the fourth-straight year. Also, he logged almost 1,000 minutes of time in net and posted an impressive 13-4 record while making 359 saves. These numbers alone are astounding because the Captains played most of the year with three defensemen, as oppose to the usual six a team has, and roughly six forwards, far from the usual 12 used by a full team. Even without a full squad, a team facing injuries all year, and a single coach most games, the Captains gave it there all every game and ended the regular season atop the standings for the Blue Ridge Hockey Conference.
If you haven’t gathered by now that Eric Dumas is an elite goaltender and also a serious competitor then this must be the first paragraph you are reading. He has given his all every practice and every game, no matter if he was 100% or 25% the team knew he would give them a chance to win every hockey game they played. And that is the type of leader on and off the ice, field, court, whatever sport one chooses, that should be respected above all else. Someone who puts the weight of his team on his back when standing alone still causes excruciating pain. Eric Dumas’ commitment to the team and dedication to the game of hockey is why he is not only one of the most skilled goalies in the region, but also one of the most inspiring teammates I have ever had the pleasure of playing with.