By Mark Schadenberg
LONDON, Ont. – Ignore the name on the back of the jersey. This youngster is a different chip off the old block.
And Max Domi, son of former NHL tough guy Tie Domi, has wasted little time making his mark in the OHL.
The 16-year-old London Knights centre scored a hat trick in his first regular season game and currently leads all OHL rookies with eight goals in 18 games.
“He’s an elite player,” said Knights assistant GM Misha Donskov. “He’s a great kid and a character player. He has vision on the ice and impresses everyone with the hard passes right on the tape.”
Domi has plenty of hard-nosed hockey experience around him. Father Tie played 16 years in the NHL and is third all-time in penalty minutes. Knights coach Dale Hunter, meanwhile, is No. 2 on that list.
Max is a different breed, turning heads already with his composure and creativity.
“I like to pass and make the guys around me better,” said Domi, who is generously listed at five foot 10. “Since I was very young, I’ve always liked to pass. My dad used to get mad at me for passing too much.
“It’s a natural instinct for me to pass and not shoot on a two-on-one.”
Domi, who also has 19 points, 16 penalty minutes and is a plus-14, has the ability to backcheck inside his own zone, start an offensive rush, stop on a dime and send an accurate pass to a teammate.
A grad of the Don Mills Flyers AAA program, Max Domi paced Don Mills to a GTHL (Greater Toronto league) title last year and second place at the OHL Cup season-ending tournament.
Under head coach Bob Marshall, the Flyers won 60 of 74 games.
“Max has outstanding offensive skills and instincts,” said Marshall. “I think what gets lost with all his offensive abilities is how sound he is defensively and how hard he has worked to learn and continue to learn how to play in his own end and without the puck.
“Some kids are gifted and they just take it for granted and get by on that, but Max is one of the hardest working kids I have been around in practice and in his off ice training.
“I think that’s what will separate him from the pack,” added Marshall.
After Don Mills, Max Domi was drafted eighth overall by the Kingston Frontenacs at last May’s OHL priority selection, but opted not to report to the club operated by two of Tie’s former teammates in Toronto: GM Doug Gilmour and coach Todd Gill.
On Aug. 30 as league training camps began, Kingston traded Max’s rights to the Knights for what amounts to three future second-round picks.
He prepared for the season by working with skating coach Darryl Belfry. He believes it was time well spent.
“(Darryl) works a lot with video. He’ll take a look at my stride — cross-overs and my shooting stride — and he will break it down,” Max said. “This summer I was working on my cross-overs a lot. I had a choppy cross-over. I’ve had three other skating coaches in the past that couldn’t crack the code in improving my cross-overs.”
Dylan Hunter, a first-year assistant coach with the Knights, knows all about the difficulty in following a famous parent. Dylan, who won a Memorial Cup with the Knights in 2005, is Dale Hunter’s son and another hockey mind who is impressed with the young Domi.
“Max has exemplary skills. He is a very powerful skater with a strong stride, and for his age he’s very hard to knock off the puck,” said Dylan Hunter. “He’s a tremendous athlete, who passes the puck hard — he doesn’t chip it forward to his teammates, he wires it.”
Domi and London teammate Bo Horvat both were members of Ontario’s under-16 squad at the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax. They are now hoping to make the Ontario under-17 team for the World Hockey Challenge, set to start in late December in Windsor.
Under coach Dale Hunter, who doesn’t believe in lines set in stone, Max plays centre mostly but is also taking a few shifts on the wing. Hunter
“It’s fun to learn both positions,” said Max.
Like teammate and Bruins prospect Jared Knight, Max is a Type 1 diabetic. The younger Domi chose No. 16 to recognize former Philadelphia star Bobby Clarke, who also has diabetes.
The Knights currently lead the OHL at 15-2-0-1 and have been ranked No. 1 four consecutive weeks in the CHL.
London appears to be a good mix of veteran forwards like Knight, Tampa draftee Vladislav Namestnikov, plus Seth Griffith and Dane Fox, along with a tremendous trio of sophomores in twins Matt and Ryan Rupert, and Andreas Athanasiou.
The blue-line is also formidable with Montreal first-rounder Jarred Tinordi, and Pittsburgh pick Harrington.
With dad Tie now a regular at Knights home games, Max doesn’t have far to look for inspiration.
“I’ve never seen anyone with as much heart and work ethic as my dad had in the NHL,” said Max. “He played many many years in the NHL and has shown me with his intensity what it takes to be a professional athlete, and he’s always there for me if I have a question to ask.”