By Michael Traikos – National Post
LONDON, Ont. — “Is he out there?”
“Yep. Number 10. In black.”
“How’s he look?”
“Nothing like his dad, that’s for sure.”
This is how most describe London Knights rookie centre Max Domi. They do not say the 16-year-old is a silky smooth skater or that he is surgical with the puck. They say that he is the opposite of Tie Domi.
Apparently, this is meant as a compliment.
Apparently, Tie Domi was a terrible hockey player who could not skate, make passes or complete plays. It seems he was just some thug who spent his 15-year NHL career beating people up.
Max knows better, of course. He spent most of his childhood in the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room, playing mini-sticks with Mats Sundin and goofing around with Darcy Tucker and other players. He knows that his father played the role of team enforcer. But he also knows that you cannot play in the NHL without a certain level of talent and desire.
Sure, Tie Domi was a fourth-line forward who got paid to drop his gloves. But he was once the fastest skater at an intra-squad skills competition. And despite logging more minutes in the penalty box than on the ice, he still carved out a reputation as one of the most popular Leafs.
“He was doing something right,” Max said of his father. “He worked really hard, so I try to take that away from his game. He does have some skill. He was pretty quick. Short strides, but he got around real fast.”
The younger Domi appears to have inherited his father’s legs and smile. The hands, thankfully, skipped a generation.
In a training camp scrimmage on Wednesday, Max handled the puck like a magician would a deck of cards. He slipped it between a defender’s legs on one play and then dished a no-look pass on another. No goals were scored, but the hundred or so fans — many of whom were here just to see the new prospect — were audibly impressed.
“I don’t want to be mean to Tie, but he’s got a lot more skill than Tie,” Knights general manager Mark Hunter. “He reminds me of Matt Duchene. Just an exceptional skater with a lot of skill. What he has, you can’t teach.”
Funny enough, the one thing that can be taught is the one thing that Tie never really wanted to teach his son.
Fighting was something that Tie Domi he had to do in order to earn a ticket to the NHL. In 1,020 games, he piled up 3,515 penalty minutes, third on the all-time list. But it came at a cost. Tie’s face is a roadmap of scars. He has bricklayer’s hands.
It is not the kind of life that any father wants for his son, even though it came with obvious rewards.
“Oh, jeez, no, I would never want him to play the game the way I played it,” Tie Domi told TSN. “I did what I had to do to play in the NHL, but Max is a totally different player from me. He’s highly skilled. He makes plays. He scores goals. He can play with an edge, but I would rather it be a Mark Messier-type edge than my type of edge. I just want him to live his dream and be himself. He doesn’t need to fight tough guys to do that.”
Max does not fight. Well, there was that line brawl last season, in which he was suspended for eight games. But based on his skill level and potential, he should develop into the type of player that his father would have protected during his career.
Not that Max needs the protection. He might be only 5-foot-8. But like his father, the 180-pounder is built like a fire hydrant.
“He didn’t really want me fighting,” Max said of his father. “And I’m not really that much of a fighter. But he showed me a couple of different things to protect myself. I guess I’ll use that in the future.”
For now, Max wants to work on developing the skills that should make him a first-round draft pick in 2013. It is early. But Max, who scored 27 goals and 57 points in 30 games for the Don Mills Flyers minor midget team last season, appears to have his father’s desire.
Although, he has found a more appropriate player to model his game after.
“I wouldn’t really compare myself to anyone,” said Max. “But I worked out with Sid [Sidney Crosby] this summer. I just liked how he worked. He’s the best player in the world, so I was just like a sponge and soaked everything up and learn as much as I could.”
In London, he hopes to continue his on-ice education. Max was originally committed to Michigan University, but changed paths to join a franchise that won a Memorial Cup in 2005 and has graduated such players as Corey Perry, Patrick Kane and John Tavares to the NHL in recent years. The Knights sent three draft picks to Kingston this week to acquire Domi’s rights.
“I am a rookie, so it’s pretty early to say this, but I want to win a championship,” Max said. “That’s what we’re working towards today.”
Down the road, there should be a future in the NHL where, fingers crossed, he hopes to have a career as lengthy as his father’s — while keeping his gloves on, of course.
“Like I said earlier, we’re kind of opposites,” said Max Domi. “But he did have some good traits that I take from his game. We wrestle quite a bit. I like to give him a go every so often.”