Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Phoenix has another Domi ... with skill and talent

By Larry Wigge

It's safe to say that Max Domi plans to use his hands for good ... not evil.

No offense to his father Tie Domi, he is the complete opposite. Domi spent 17 seasons in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets.

No one ever questioned Domi's toughness or his ability to fight. Short in stature but not on guts, determination and flare, Tie's third all-time in NHL history with 3,515 penalty minutes, including a club-record 2,265 in 11 seasons with the Maple Leafs.

Max perks up and defends the notion that his father was not talented.

"I’ve never seen anyone with as much heart and work ethic as my dad had in the NHL," Max said. "He played 17 years in the NHL so he was doing something right, and he's probably one of the hardest workers I've ever met.

"He did whatever it took to win. I kind of take bits and pieces of what he did in his career ... and implement them into mine, hoping for the best. One thing I know, if I ever had a question for him he was there to give me an answer."

Now to the son.

Max Domi uses his hands to score or set up goals rather than administer justice. His offensive creativity convinced the Phoenix Coyotes to take the 18-year-old from Toronto native 12th overall in 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

"It was a dream come true," said Max. "It feels unbelievable. It's hard to put it into words.

"We're kind of opposites. But we wrestle quite a bit. I like to give him a go every so often. But ... he didn't really want me fighting."

The Toronto, native, has excellent hockey sense and is able to find openings in the offensive zone to unleash a quick and accurate wrist shot. His release is top notch and often fools opposing goaltenders. Domi drives the net and has great hands in tight allowing him to score goals in a number of ways.  

Domi also has has great anticipation and a great first step, which sees him pounce on a ton of loose pucks around the net. He is extremely dangerous with the puck and can beat defenders one on one. He also has excellent vision and passing ability which he uses to create openings for his teammates.

Domi is an elite skater who uses his shiftiness and changes of pace to confuse and beat defenders. He has a great first step and top notch acceleration. His edgework and agility is extremely good ... and Max maintains a low center of gravity at 5-9 and 195 pounds, which makes him very difficult to knock off the puck, despite his small size. He has a very strong, very powerful lower body.

The biggest obstacle for Domi is coping with Type 1 diabetes in an attempt to play the sport he loves. He wears an insulin pump attached to his hip during games and team doctors and GM Mark Hunter have helped monitor his blood glucose levels on the bench.

During intermission, Domi usually is gulping down sandwiches or drinking Gatorade in an attempt to maintain a proper glucose count.

"Five years ago, he was diagnosed with diabetes," Domi said of his son. "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?' To which Max responded, 'Do you know Bobby Clarke had diabetes. He was one of the toughest players ever.' "

Know you know how tough it is to tell Max Domi he can't do this or that. Wearing the pump, helps Domi withstand his obstacle.

"It's not the easiest thing to handle, but as you go on with it and gain experience, it gets easier," Domi explains. "You just have to embrace it and kind of take it head-on. You can't look at it as adversity. It's something you can't change.

"It makes you more responsible and I have to take care of my body a lot more. For me, it's for the better ... and it helps me out a lot."

For Max Domi, growing up, he's had plenty of friends. But he's watched several of those players ... and learned a lot.

"A guy like Zach Parise or Martin St. Louis," he said. "They're not the biggest guys, but they can skate and make plays and put the puck in the back of the net."

And, of course, there bloodlines. DNA. All familiar ways to determine or predict ... which hockey players you might take a harder look at the annual NHL Draft. There's something to be said for growing up in a hockey environment -- in the dressing room of an NHL team and having the bloodlines of a famous father to help with the right words.

Or introduce you to Mats Sundin. Mario Lemieux or some other star who can give the kid incite to what it takes to be a good NHL.

With the London Knights, Max played and recorded 39 goals and 48 assists in 64 games.

Still, Leanne Domi, Max's mother, laid down the law to Tie.

"You let him grow," Leanne said. "You don't help him make the easy choices, you help him make the right choices.

"We wanted him to go to school. What parent doesn't? At the end of the day, it's Max's choice."

So Tie Domi sits in the least conspicuous spot he can find at the John Labatt Center.

"Have you seen me do any interviews this week?" Domi said. "This is really about him. It's his time."

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."

"He was pretty pumped," Max said of his father's reaction to going in the first round. "He's an emotional guy, obviously. He's very happy. He had a long, successful career in the NHL and he wants nothing less for me."

He calls his father his No. 1 fan.

"He's a big reason for me being what I am today. On and off the ice, he's a first-class guy. He didn't do the easiest job, but he found a way to do it. He was a great teammate every day ... I definitely take a lot of notes from him."

"We think he may be the most skilled player in our organization right now," Coyotes GM Don Maloney said. "He's a strong-bodied player. He's been playing in a terrific organization. We just think we got a very good young player ... and for a team that's searching for more offensive ability, he has it in spades."

That's quite a compliment for Domi. But ...

Domi's coach with the Knights, Dale Hunter -- also former Washington Capitals' coach -- described such skill in a recent interview.

"He has extensive offensive skills and his skating ability is -- and I hate to say it -- Sidney Crosby-esque," Hunter said. "You never want to compare a player to someone like that, but he has a very strong lower torso, so his center of gravity is amazing."

Hold up. Sidney Crosby? Really? It's certainly a lofty comparison, but if Domi's to have a pro to look up to, Crosby's not exactly a bad choice.

"Last summer I skated with Sid," Max said. "After only a couple of hours with Crosby you understand why he is the best in the world. He works extraordinarily hard.

"I was just like a sponge and soaked everything up and learned as much as I could."

Max Domi talking about what others can do to help him. Remember, he's already the most skilled player in the Coyotes organization.

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