By Morris Dalla Costa, The London Free Press
Tie Domi sits in the least conspicuous spot he can find at the John Labatt Centre.
He’s watching son Max begin the long, tough road to what both hope will be a professional hockey career.
First though he has to make his bones in the Ontario Hockey League.
Max has made most of the big news early in the London Knights’ training camp. The talented forward was traded to the Knights on the first day of camp. His first day on the ice raised eyebrows. People knew he could play but this 16-year-old can play.
He was the eighth pick of the Kingston Frontenacs but most likely would have been a much higher pick if he wasn’t considering going to university to play hockey.
Kingston drafted him. Max told them he didn’t want to report so the Knights traded for him.
Max is a player. It’s fair to say he has stolen the spotlight so far at the Knights camp.
It’s something guys with the last name Domi seem to make a habit of.
Dad Tie Domi was a popular player whether it was as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets or New York Rangers. Short in stature but not on guts, determination and flare, Domi made a 16-year career of the NHL, retiring in 2006.
So Tie Domi, the former NHL tough guy, is in London doing what he can to stay out of the spotlight. It’s a tough thing for him to do, not because he looks for it but because it’s usually looking for him.
Not this week. Domi doesn’t want to do anything other than watch his son play.
“Have you seen me do any interviews this week?” Domi says. “This is really about him. It’s his time.”
But Domi did take some time to talk about Max and the process that brought him to London.
Domi enjoys talking about his son’s ability to play the game. Max proves that on the ice.
But it’s a story that comes from off the ice that shows how Max is developing as a person and it’s no exaggeration father Tie is as proud of that.
On the first day of camp, Max Domi came to the security door. He introduced himself to the security personnel saying, “Hi, my name is Max Domi and I’ll be playing for the Knights this year. And you are . . . ?”
It was the first time a player had done that to them.
With Tie as his dad, Max got a chance to hang around with some of Tie’s closest friends including Mats Sundin and Mario Lemieux. As a young man, Max learned what it was like to be in a successful atmosphere.
“After every all-star game appearance Mats gave Max his helmet,” Tie Domi said. “He has a shelf with those helmets. Mario took him on the ice and in the dressing room when they won the Stanley Cup and when Canada won the World Cup. You learn what it takes to be successful.”
Tie Domi, is a passionate, emotional, straight-shooter, someone that’s engaging to talk to. Every year there are kids want to go to school but eventually choose the OHL and wind up playing for other teams. They don’t make anywhere near the news that Max Domi made because frankly, their last name is not Domi.
Tie Domi understands the pressure.
“It comes with the territory,” Tie Domi says. “As a professional athlete, I got paid well but I learned to block it all out, the good and the bad . . . That’s what I taught my kids.
“But when you are in a city for 13 years (Toronto) . . . you are on every news channel every night. Everybody knows your name, your kids have to deal with it.”
One point Domi repeatedly made was that while he and Max’s mother Leanne offered advice and direction to their son, the final decision was Max’s.
“You let him grow,” Domi said. “You don’t help him make the easy choices, you help him make the right choices.
“From the start Leanne and I both wanted him to go to school. What parent doesn’t? At the end of the day, it’s Max’s choice.”
Max and Tie are about as different as hockey players can be. Tie never got as much credit as he should have for his abilities beyond fighting. But Max is a tremendous offensive talent.
“I never wanted him to be the kind of player I was,” Tie said.
No one ever questioned Domi’s toughness but like all parents, when it comes to their kids, they are nothing more than softies.
Domi couldn’t hide his emotion when asked how proud he was of his son.
“Five years ago, he was diagnosed with diabetes,” Domi said collecting himself. “When the doctor told him, the first thing Max said was ‘will I be able to play hockey?'”
The doctor looked at Max and said ‘play hockey? Do you know Bobby Clarke had diabetes. He was one of the toughest players ever.’
It’s why Domi opted for No. 16, Clarke’s number.
“You know when I was a kid, Clarke was my favourite player,” Tie Domi said. “I deliberately knocked out my two front teeth on the handlebars of my bike so I could look like Clarke.”
With that, he went off to watch the new Domi generation do his stuff.