Max Domi is second in rookie scoring and first on the Coyotes in his first NHL season.
By: Rosie DiManno Columnist – Toronto Star
PHOENIX—There was a time when he was Tie’s Kid. And now it’s the other who’s known as Max’s Dad.
Domi the Younger and Domi the Elder.
Together, if separated by three tiers of seating at Gila River Arena — one down on the ice, one up in a private box — and a generation of hockey between them, of course.
The millennial NHL rookie and the 12-years-a-Leaf crowd favourite, the dominant enforcer of his era, when enforcers were giants.
On this Tuesday evening, with Arizona headed to a 3-2 win over Toronto, Tie Domi folds his hands tidily on the ledge of his viewing perch, hands that were put to use in 333 NHL fights. Lost maybe five of them.
“My fighting did the talking,” says Domi, nodding towards his 20-year-old son Max, a dazzler in his freshman season. “His play does the talking.”
Max has his father’s square head and stocky build but his mother Leanne’s fairer coloring. “A lot of people joke about me getting my hands from my mom,’’ their mutual progeny chuckles. Indeed, the athletic genes have been passed on by both parental units — Tie was the NHL bold face but mom was a serious marathoner.
“He has my heart,” Tie observes, and he’s entitled to a bit of self-puffery. “He competes. He’s not a good loser, like I wasn’t either.”
Tie ponders their similarities and differences further. “He loves the big stage, always has.”
And who does that sound like? Though Tie’s stage was more often a pseudo boxing ring, as protector of “the talent” but certainly a showman in his own element, back in the day when enforcers brought a critical dimension to the game. For which the father makes no apologies and the son offers only a high regard.
“I don’t know if I ever cried,” says Max, casting his mind back to what he remembers, as a kidlet, of his father’s numerous fights at Maple Leaf Gardens. “But I have more respect for him than anyone I’ve ever met — just for that reason. His job was the hardest job in hockey. I can see it first-hand now. It’s not easy to do by any means and he never complained, just enjoyed every second of it.
“His biggest thing was showing up at the rink every day with a smile on his face and trying to help his team win. For him to stick around that long in that organization, with all the media scrutiny and the spotlight, he handled it unbelievably.”
Max — the Coyotes’ first-round draft choice in 2013 who entered Tuesday second in rookie scoring and first on the Coyotes with 25 points — enjoys the arm-around of a hard-nosed Praetorian Guard of Steve Downie and John Scott. So history is repeating itself, if inversed. But he’s the gifted one, the finesse scorer and playmaker a la Mats Sundin, the primary beneficiary in Toronto of Tie’s eyes-wide-open recce duties. That’s how it’s been since the beginning of his hockey career, always the star of every team on which he played from pre-peewee days.
Dad has a photograph, taken at the Gardens, the first time he brought Max on to the ice. The child was 18 months old, “stuffed in his snow suit, flat on his stomach in the crease, sweeping pucks into the net.”
Max’s memory doesn’t extend back quite that far. “The biggest thing that stands out for me was going to the rink for practices when I was a little kid. Best memory I have is my dad pouring a bucket of pucks on the ice and telling me to shoot them all.”
He went to the games too, of course, but hardly took much notice. “To be honest, I was never a big fan of watching. I would play mini-sticks either in the box or in the wives’ lounge with the other kids.”
Somewhere along the line, he learned a whole bunch. It helped, of course, that during his youth one of Max’s main tutors was Sundin, “who’s like a member of my family.” But he wishes to make clear that most of what he absorbed came from dad.
“He used to say to me: ‘I was never on the power play but I watched a lot of power plays.’ And he had a front row seat watching Mats. But he knows the game so well, honestly. His attention to detail is more than anyone I’ve ever met, any coach. He studied it.
“My dad has been there ever since minor hockey days. People ask me, does he tell you what to do.’’ Here, Max grins — and it’s Tie’s smile. “He’s been telling me the same things ever since I can remember, from minor hockey days to juniors day to world juniors to the NHL. He still sends me notes before every game. And after every game he lets me know how I’ve played — he’s brutally honest.”
Up in the box, Tie is asked if he texts his kid between periods. He explodes in laughter. “Are you serious?!”
Which, you might notice, isn’t an answer.
Max doesn’t really need much direction anymore from dear old dad. He’s adjusted quickly to the NHL, clearly. “I’ve enjoyed just watching him figuring it out,” Tie says.
Tie’s own mother famously refused to watch her boy play hockey — the only game she ever attended was Wayne Gretzky’s last appearance at the Gardens, so that was a gesture of affection towards a young man she didn’t know but who struck a chord of tenderness when he cried publicly after being traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles.
By comparison, Tie was a frequent feature during his son’s junior years in London, Ont., and was in attendance for nine out of Max’s first 10 NHL games — even though Domi Sr. was busy with his own book tour promoting Shift Work.
“It’s all about him now,” Tie says proudly, of a son who learned early how to content with what has also been, on occasion, the burden of wearing “Domi” across the back of his jersey.
Max: “That comes with the name, right?”
Down on the ice, Max suddenly gets into a very atypical — for him — piece of pushing and quasi-punching business with Peter Holland. Max drops the gloves first. Both are sent off with five-minute majors for fighting.
Up in the box, Tie Domi’s eyes say not a word.
He hates it when his kid fights, however rarely. Those hands! Don’t damage those goal scorer’s hands!
Where’s an enforcer when you need him?