Monday, December 28, 2015

DNA, fathers and sons --- Max Domi's career if off ...

By Larry Wigge

Max Domi's father was a complicated man ... sort of.

Tie Domi was a champion of a lost art in hockey. He'd drop his gloves in a Toronto minute just to get even for a teammate or because an opponent would sideways at him.

For most of Tie's career, which also included 104 goals and 141 assists, penalty minutes was his specialty -- some 3,515 penalty minutes in his 15-year NHL career with the Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets.

Thus when I asked Max what kind of message did his impart to his son when he was the 12th pick overall in the 2013 NHL draft by the Arizona Coyotes.

Max said simply, "My dad always says: Keep your head up and make smart plays."

Keeping his head up sound like Tie. The other advice seems strange, but it not so strange when you consider Max Domi plans to use his hands for good ... not evil.

And it's the next generation away from Tie, who finished his career in 2005-06 ... and basically Tiger Williams, Marty McSorley, Bob Probert, Chris Nilan and the Broad Street Bullies are extinct.

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 observes. "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."

If you get the feeling that Max will defend his dad to the end ...

"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."

Max Domi was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Domi's resume is one of an up-and-coming terrific playmaker. Max is second among NHL rookie point producers, with 26 points, behind the Chicago Blackhawks' Artemi Panarin, who has 31 points.

That's where the familiarity or glad-handing comes in. It's not uncommon that Domi is seen chatting with Mario Lemieux or Mats Sundin or Mark Messier or Alex Steen -- players who the youngster became life-long friends with because of his dad.

Domi remembers one night at at Toronto hotel. Messier got up in the hotel restaurant and told Max he would teach him some of the finer points of the faceoff ... and so the two did a little drill right in the restaurant.

"I was 15 years old and here we were in the middle of the restaurant at the hotel," Domi said, amazingly. "I don't think I lost a draw the rest of the year."

Just listen to Shane Doan, longtime Coyotes captain in his 20th NHL season, on Domi:

"Young guys coming in sometimes have a feeling of entitlement," Doan said. "There's a lot of recognition that comes with somebody that's had as much success as he's had on the ice already ... and there is not one ounce of that. And every single vet in the room is as big a fan of him as anybody. It's just human nature in sports when the new guy comes in to feel a little bit, I don't know, you want them to earn it, I don't know how to express it other than there can sometimes be resentment from the veteran guys.

"It has made our room so much fun ... They've just been so eager to learn and at the same time they're driving the bus for us, so they've had the right to feel some entitlement. It's pretty awesome."

Said Coach Dave Tippett: "He's not in awe of anything. He takes responsibility for things. He's been around it his whole life. ... His speed and skill stand out"

When it comes time for Tie Domi to stand up for his son, he remembers one day when Max was 12.

"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.' "

Domi changed his uniform No. 13 to 16, a tribute to another mould-breaker, in diabetes Bobby Clarke. In fact, Max plays a lot like Clarke, the longtime captain of the Flyers -- his tenacity on retrieving pucks.

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.

Clarke was retired and in the stands watching his grandson play, when Domi's mom, Leanne, spotted him at the game. She wanted Clarke to say hello to Max.

Max recalled that time: "She said she'd never done that before because obviously she knows what it feels like to bugged during family time like that. But, he came over and said hi. Pretty cool."

Considering the impact Clarke's visit had on Domi, he was eager to meet with sometimes 10 kids after games. Some would even ask him to sign their insulin pumps.

Now, Domi appears on TV commercials in Canada, a face of Bayer's diabetes care campaign. With every video share online, Bayer makes a $1 donation to diabetes research. Even actor Mark Wahlberg -- a family friend of the Domi's -- posted the link on social media.

"He was pretty happy with my acting skills," Domi said.

Off the ice, Domi has a best friend named Orion, a yellow Labrador retriever that serves as a constant companion helping this Coyote control his diabetes.

"So, he's a service dog, and he actually alerts me when my blood sugar gets too low ... and he's right 99.9 percent of the time," said Domi.

How does he know for sure?

"You give off a scent in your saliva that he's been trained to pick up. It's amazing how smart he is," Domi said. "It's amazing the connection you have with your dog."

Max is in touch with the trainer and doctor of the Coyotes. By taking insulin shots and constantly checking his blood sugar, something he does up to 30 times a day.

An underdose of insulin could make him ill.

To get to where Max Domi is there is little doubt that Tie had something to do with it.

"I am who I am and my dad is who he is," Max said. "I've been asked about that a lot. We're two different people."

"Being drafted into the NHL was a dream come true," said Max. "It's hard to put it into words."

Tie and Max ...

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

Then, Max laughs at that thought, saying, "I wouldn't tell him that to his face, but I was more of a Mats Sundin fan (the uniform No. 13 once wore comes into play earlier in this story)."

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.

For Max Domi, growing up at 5-9, 193 pounds, 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.

"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 London 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."

When your dealing with DNA and father's and sons, sometimes that facts get in the way ... if you know what I mean.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Stop the puck ... says Florida's Roberto Luongo

By Larry Wigge

There are certain players you HAVE to have ... no matter how long it takes to make a deal.

Roberto Luongo is one such player that Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon had to have. It took the better part of two years before Tallon re-acquired Roberto Luongo from Vancouver in March of 2014.

The time spent in acquiring one of the game's elite goaltenders was time well spent, according to Tallon, who had been the architect for three Stanley Cups in six seasons at Chicago.

Rebuilding the Panthers was Tallon's latest project ...

"Roberto won a gold medal for Canada in 2006. He took Vancouver to the Cup finals in 2011 ... got beat in Game 7 by Boston," Tallon gushed. "His numbers are phenomenal."

Tallon paused and said, "This is the beginning of something special for this Florida Panthers organization, having Roberto back in the fold and back in Florida where he belongs. We're going to grow together and win many championships."

On this December 1 night, Luongo made 29 saves in a 3-1 Florida Panthers victory at St. Louis, including 17 in the third period, for his 16th career win against the Blues.

"The days of saying; 'I'm young and I'm this or that' are over," he said. "I look forward to the pressure of the expectations fans have for me, but ... "

It was just a split-second between thoughts before he revealed his real aspirations, saying; "I want people to compare me to the Marty Brodeurs and Patrick Roys and Grant Fuhrs of this game. That's my goal ... to be the best goalie in the world."

Dominik Hasek, Grant Fuhr and Glenn Hall have been passed by Luongo -- and soon Tony Esposito on the all-time wins list for eighth overall.

The 36-year-old from Montreal has not won a Stanley Cup like Brodeur and Roy and Fuhr have, but Luongo Luongo is in the NHL's upper echelon in the puck-stopping business.

"I pride myself on being an ultimate competitor," Luongo said. "Everything I do I want to win ... whether it's playing hockey, poker or golf or any other sport."

So does anything scare Luongo? Well ...

"I would say heights," he said, blushing a little. "I never go on roller coasters. I'd never try sky-diving. I get scared of heights."

Quick wit. Quiet confidence. That's Roberto Luongo.

When you're a goaltender, you learn to look beyond what's in your sight. There are often a half-dozen legs and arms between you and the shooter ... and your job is to be in a position to stop the puck no matter where it comes from, no matter how many deflections, how many screens. And Roberto Luongo's vision of where he's at and what he wants is very clear.

Luongo looks you straight in the eyes when he speaks, not like most athletes -- whose eyes waver.

On the floor of his Montreal he grew up in, Luongo used to watch and marvel at Edmonton's Grant Fuhr.

"I used to watch Grant Fuhr on television all the time, watching him make those glove saves. So that's really what attracted me to being a goalie. I just found it so spectacular and exciting," Luongo remembered. "Any time I was playing street hockey with my friends, I tried to make those kind of saves.

"My parents wanted me to skate and move around the ice and not just stand in the net. That's how it was back in the day. But after the third year, I really wanted to switch over. I started playing goalie when I was 12."

Antonio, his dad, worked in the construction and delivery of furniture. Pasqualina, his mom, worked in the marketing for Air Canada.

Luongo quickly became a solid netminder. He was drafted fourth overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. Then, in the summer of 2000, he was traded to Florida.

While playing with Panthers, Luongo would spend at Pizza Time Trattoria. Being an Italian, it felt like home.

"When I went in there, the owner, was Italian, so we started talking in Italian," Luongo said, of his burgeoning friendship with Umberto Cerbone. "It was right next to my townhouse, so I started going there every day ..."

The friendship became more ...

"After a while, they felt like family even though I'd just started dating Gina, his daughter," said Luongo. "I was friends with the whole family before I met her.

"Italians are always close to their families. That's the way we're brought up."

Now Roberto and Gina two childen -- they have Gabriella, who is eight years old, and Gianni, who will turns six on December 27.

At a time when we constantly read about how a team is looking to get its top players a rest, Luongo threw me a curveball.

"Not at all," Luongo said. "When you're winning, you stay energized. You don't look at the number of games you've played or getting a breather here or there. You want to be in there every night.

"Years ago, I played a ton in the regular season ... and I was more than ready to go in the playoffs. You play all your career to perform in the playoffs, so there's no way you feel tired when the playoffs begin."

What? Worry about being tired? No way, according to Luongo.

That's the kind of refreshing frame of mind I think you'd hear from most players who live for hockey ... and live for the playoffs -- even if we in the media have built these myths that a player has to be ultra-fresh for the potential two-month run in the playoffs.

"I dreamed as a kid of playing in the NHL, playing in the playoffs and playing in an overtime game in the playoffs," Luongo continued, smiling from ear-to-ear. "What a rush! Extra pressure makes you want to thrive even more."

You can feel the fire in his voice, can't you? The fight of a champion. The hunger to win. And now, he's ready for more.

"Lou's and boos all sound the same," Luongo said, kiddingly. "I won't be able to tell the difference. I just want to enjoy the game."

Roberto Luongo wears a mask. In Florida, he plays in goal with a mask and a purpose ... to win.