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McKenzie: Max Domi - Not exactly a chip off the old block

Bob McKenzie
10/22/2010 1:21:31 PM
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 It probably isn't the best week to be introducing you to Max Domi.

That's because we are obliged to report that the 15-year-old son of retired NHL tough guy Tie Domi was suspended this week for eight games for his part in a line brawl in  a  Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) minor midget AAA game between his Don Mills Flyers and their arch rivals, the Toronto Marlies.

So right away, you're going to start connecting the dots... son of Tie Domi... line brawl... 8-game suspension... a real chip off the old block, right?

Wrong.

The reason for getting to know Max is not because he's a minor hockey enforcer cut from the same cloth as his dad but because he's precisely the opposite -- a talented, highly-skilled playmaking, goal-scoring centre who is, by most accounts, the top prospect available in this year's Ontario Hockey League priority selection, aka the minor midget draft.

"Oh, jeez, no, I would never want him to play the game the way I played it," Tie Domi said of his son. "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 much 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 Domi's eight-game suspension was two games for fighting and  an additional six games for  fighting after a helmet came off during the fight. A number of the other players on the ice during the brawl actually got double digit suspensions compared to Max's eight.

But here's the thing. In the grand scheme of  it all , it doesn't really matter because the brawl and ensuing suspension(s) are not what the 5-foot-9, 175-pound centre is all about.

"He's a skilled, very talented offensive player who skates well," said an OHL scout. "Fighting, brawling, that's not him. He's smart and he sees the ice well. He's a really good player.  He's a dynamic talent. It's early in the season yet but right now, most (scouts) would tell you he's No. 1 or close to it in terms of the  1995s  (birth year) for the OHL draft."

"Max is an elite talent, as skilled as any player I've seen in his age group," said Flyers' head coach Bob Marshall, a standout U.S. college defenceman at Miami of Ohio who was drafted by the Calgary Flames and had an eight-year minor pro career in the 1990s. "The brawl we had, that's not Max. It's the furthest thing from the way he plays the game. He's not Tie. I kid Tie all the time, 'Are you sure Max is your son?' Not only is Max unbelievably skilled, but he has a tremendous work ethic and he's just a terrific kid to coach, on and off the ice."

And that, along with the fact he's Tie Domi's  son , is the real story.

Like most kids of NHL players, Max grew up with the game. Tie has pictures of him as a toddler on the ice at Maple Leaf Gardens, in a snowsuit, wearing skates, laying on his stomach and throwing pucks into the net. He's always been a good player in minor hockey. He led the prestigious Brick atom tournament in Edmonton in scoring, has won numerous minor hockey championships and often been a leading scorer.

"He had one goal and 16 assists in the Brick tournament," Tie recollected. "He's always liked being a playmaker more than a goal-scorer but that's changed a bit."

In part, because of Mario Lemieux, who is one of Tie's best friends and a quasi-uncle/mentor to Max.

"Mario jokingly told Max, 'We don't pay guys to get assists,' so Max has been trying to shoot more," Tie said. "Mario is his role model."

But he  does  play for the (Don Mills) Flyers and wears No. 16 and that's no coincidence either.

Max used to wear No. 13 but that was before he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two years ago. Tie recalled being in the doctor's office when Max was given the news.

"He asked the doctor, 'Can I still play hockey?' and the doctor said, 'Can you still play hockey? Are you serious? Have you ever heard of Bobby Clarke? He had diabetes just like you but he was one of the best and toughest hockey players who ever played the game.  And they didn't have insulin pumps when Bobby Clarke played. You absolutely can play hockey. "

On the way home in the car  from Sick Kids' Hospital, Max asked Tie about Bobby Clarke and Tie told him the story of how when Tie was a kid growing up in Belle River, Ont., Tie wanted so badly to be like Bobby Clarke that he knocked out his own two front teeth to look like the Flyer captain.

"That's when he changed from No. 13 to No. 16," Tie said. "Having Mario Lemieux and Bobby Clarke as your inspirations, those are two pretty good role models to have."

Max was at a minor hockey tournament and Bobby Clarke happened to be there so Max's mom  Leanne  introduced herself to Clarke, who went to the Flyers' dressing room to talk to the kids and meet Max.

It hasn't always been easy for Max with the Domi nameplate on his sweater.

His mom Leanne says Max has taken a lot of verbal abuse over the years, but she adds that he's always taken it in stride.

"He just says, it is what it is, and he's never really let it bother him too much," Leanne said. "He's actually used it to motivate him. He's just a very resilient kid. I mean, as parents we are probably more upset about the suspension than he is. He told me this suspension will make it more difficult for him to try to break (Steven) Stamkos's scoring record but that he'll still try. He's ready to move on and just deal with it. Max has been blessed with some innate natural ability that Tie never had, and Tie will be the first to tell you that, but Max has also benefited from the all the guidance Tie has been able to give him on how to work like a pro, be a good teammates, train off ice with the best people. Tie worked very hard to be an NHL player and it wasn't easy and Max knows how much work is required because he is Tie's son. Max has seen the worst of the worst from some people but he's also seen the best of the best."

Like a lot of talented 15 year olds who are in their major junior draft year, it's decision time in terms of whether to play in the OHL or perhaps go the U.S. college route. Domi, of course, played for the Peterborough Petes and has been a big booster of what the OHL did for him, but that doesn't necessarily mean he thinks it's best for Max.

"The OHL is a great league and (OHL commissioner) David Branch has spoken to us and he's a very convincing man," Domi said, "but I worry  if he plays in the OHL with that Domi name on the back of his sweater, is he going to have to fight his way through the league because of who I was and what I was? Because we don't want that for him. That's not him. He might be better off going to play college hockey."

Max attended a recent college showcase tournament and played in front of a multitude of NCAA head coaches and, at this point anyway, looks as though he may be college bound once he's finished high school.

"We're focused on five schools right now," Domi said. "Boston College, Boston University, Michigan, Harvard and Yale. We'll see what happens. Max trained in the summer with (strength and conditioning coach) Matt Nichol and Matt trains Mike Cammalleri and Cammy told Max school is a great way to go so that's where w'ere at right now. It's what I want for him, what his mom wants for him and what he wants too."

"The important thing," Leanne added, "is just to keep Max grounded and make sure he's aware of all the options available to him. It's early in the year and it's a long season and a player has to keep proving himself, but it's obvious that Max is getting a lot of attention right now and you have to take steps in regard to that. College would be a wonderful life experience for him and if he can do that and keep advancing in hockey, that would be great. But it's early so we'll just see what happens."

With all the attention that has been focused on Max, it became necessary for Domi to get a family advisor. Pat Brisson of CAA, best friends with Mario Lemieux, is now looking out for Max's best interests in hockey.

Tie is an assistant coach on Max's team but handles the defence, not the forwards.

"It's a big year for him, but I'm just happy to be a part of it," Tie said. "He's a good player and he's a good kid."

Those who work closely with  Max Domi  -- Bob Marshall and Matt Nichol, amongst others -- says he's not so much a good kid as he is a great kid -- polite, respectful, hard working, appreciative and thoughtful, to which I could only ask Tie: Are you sure he's your kid?

So in that case, all kidding  and the eight-game suspension aside, it turns out it is a good week to be introduced to Max Domi.

Bob McKenzie

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