Max Domi is wearing a pair of compression shorts and a workout shirt, his thighs thick like tree trunks as he stands outside the Arizona Coyotes dressing room.
He is loosening up on the morning between back-to-backs on the road, mostly just kibitzing with teammates, having a laugh on game day and making time for some media in Edmonton.
If you knew his father, 1,000-game NHLer Tie Domi, you don’t need a program to see that Max is a chip off the old block.
He’s got the patchy eyebrows, the big smile, the welcoming personality and, of course, “The Melon” — a head that is a size too big for his body. Don’t feel sorry for the kid though — his father’s was about three sizes too big, they used to joke.
There are, as you dig into Max Domi’s game, a number of elements that harken back to his Dad’s aggressive style.
Just ask those who have played against Max back in the Ontario Hockey League.
“Oh yeah,” said Connor McDavid, smiling. “I think there’s a little bit more [Tie in Max’s game] than people know. He’s one of the harder players I played against in junior, always in your face.
“He’s a good guy and an unbelievably good player,” said McDavid, the former Erie Otter who played opposite Domi’s London Knights and also teamed up with him last Christmas on Canada’s World Junior team. “He’s a pretty big jokester, always goofing around, but he’s also a great leader. At the World Juniors he was someone I always looked up to.”
Griffin Reinhart, the ex-Edmonton junior whose Oil Kings met up with the Knights at both the 2012 and 2014 Memorial Cups, recalls Domi a little less fondly.
“He tries to get under your skin, for sure,” said Reinhart, a six-foot-four defenceman on the bubble of sticking with the Oilers. “He does a good job trying to take you off your game. A cheap shot here, a stick between the legs when the ref’s not looking. Some spears. Nothing too dirty, but enough to irritate you.”
Of course, Domi loves the review from Reinhart.
“Ah, Griff doesn’t like me much from on the ice,” he said with a smile. “But I’ve met him a few times off the ice, and it’s tough to find a hockey player who isn’t awesome.”
Domi is, by birthright, a member of the National Hockey League fraternity — though he’ll have to wait until the 30 NHL rosters are set on Oct. 6 (Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET) to officially become an NHL player.
The 20-year-old was, offensively, the best player on the ice for the offence-starved Coyotes Tuesday night in Edmonton, where Arizona lost 4-0.
Last season Arizona barely averaged two goals per game — 165 goals in 82 games — and now, head coach Dave Tippett observes a club that has played five preseason games and scored four goals in total. He is, as you might expect, looking for some offence.
“That’s an understatement,” said Tippett, who frankly can’t avoid starting the youth movement in the desert. “Well, what are the other options? Look at the rest of the roster. We know we’re going to inject some youth into our roster.”
Of all of that youth, Domi is the most ready to make an impact at this level. Dylan Strome, McDavid’s former Erie teammate and the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft, will likely be returned to junior, though he might get a handful of regular season games before going back.
The difference between the two is Domi’s speed. With two more years of junior under his belt, Domi’s quick feet, his super puck skills, and that legendary Domi tenacity are at an NHL level, or near enough that he should be able to make it at this level.
“It’s consistency, every shift,” cautioned Tippett. “The little things that maybe aren’t the most flashy things to do, there are things that have to get done that are non-flashy.”
Domi is smart, and he’ll learn those tricks from his head coach. And if he does not, there will be another strong voice in Domi’s ear.
“He’s my Dad, so I talk to him about everything,” Max said of Tie. “He’s giving me feedback, and his honest opinion is usually pretty honest. Whether I’m playing good or bad, he’ll let me know.
“My Dad wasn’t handed anything in his life — he’s worked for everything he’s got. He deserves it all, so I try to take his work ethic and put it into my game,” Max continued. “He played 17 years in the NHL … and he was a great teammate too. Little things like that. Attention to detail is huge.”
It’s going to be a lean year in the desert, to be sure. But watching a second generation Domi make his way? That could be priceless.