Max Domi knew from a young age he wanted to follow his in his father’s footsteps to the NHL.
Did he want to play the same role as dad? Not a chance.
Tie Domi was a physical and intimidating force in junior with the Peterborough Petes and as a professional, who played 1,020 regular-season games in the NHL, amassing 3,515 penalty minutes. An undersized enforcer, Domi tangled with every heavyweight in the league. According to hockeyfights.com, he had 271 fights in the regular season. He could also skate a regular shift, a claim few other enforcers could make.
He was a pitbull.
Max Domi has the heart of a pitbull, but his slighter build, not to mention his more refined skills, set him on a different course than his father. He has amazing vision, is a deft passer and, in his fourth season with the OHL’s London Knights, has taken his game to the next level.
"I didn’t really think of my dad’s style or playing the way he played when I was young, but I wanted to be just like him in the sense that he played in the NHL for a long time," Domi said in a recent interview. "That is what I looked up to. For as long as I can remember I wanted to play in the NHL and he is the guy I looked up to."
In his first three years with the Knights, the five-foot-10, 194-pound Domi had seasons of 21 goals and 28 assists, 39 goals and 48 assists and 34 goals and 59 assists. He was chosen 12th overall in the 2013 NHL draft by the Arizona Coyotes and has attended their last two training camps.
There was a sense Domi had progressed to the point where the Coyotes might keep him for at least the first nine games of this NHL season and then make a decision to keep him or send him back to London. He did not have a strong camp, though, and was sent back to junior before the NHL season began.
Other players might have gone into a funk, but not Domi. As the new captain of the Knights, he knows he is a role model for the younger players. Besides, he had work to do on his game.
"It sucks getting cut," the 19-year-old said. "You have to look at it that it is done now and you can’t change it. What you can control is how you handle it. (Coyotes coach) Dave Tippet and (GM) Don Maloney told me hopefully I will have a long career in the NHL and right now I am with the London Knights and trying to make the world junior team. That’s all that is on my mind now."
When it came time to choose the team’s captain, London coach Dale Hunter said Domi was the obvious candidate.
"He was a leader on the team last year, but we had a bunch of older guys and this year we have a very young team," Hunter said. "There was pressure on Max when he first came here because he has a famous dad and there was the pressure of going through his draft year with high expectations. Max embraced being the captain right from the get-go. Our young kids make mistakes, but Max stays positive and helps them, almost like a big brother."
Domi has been focused on making the NHL since he was a kid. There was a scare along the way when he was diagnosed with diabetes, but he said monitoring his diet and checking his blood routinely has made it a non-factor. He wears No. 16, emulating Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke, who also has diabetes.
The Knights sit third in the Midwest Division in the Western Conference at 15-9-0-2. Domi ranks third in OHL scoring with 12 goals and 38 assists in 24 games. His hard work and determination paid off when he was among the candidates named to Canada’s world junior selection camp.
While some have questioned Domi’s lack of size, Hunter, who was a passionate player that occasionally crossed the line in his 19-year NHL career, likes what he sees in the teen’s game.
"He can be a little fiery at times," Hunter said, "but right now he’s relaxed and playing the best hockey I’ve seen him play. He’s definitely going to help Team Canada go for the gold. He plays a 200-foot game and he even blocks shots. He doesn’t have to block shots because he gets points, but that’s what leaders do."