Why Canadiens’ Max Domi decided to return for playoffs

Max Domi joined the Montreal Canadiens for practice on Monday for the first time, and Sportsnet's Eric Engels discusses what this means for Domi being able to travel and play with the team in the playoffs.

BROSSARD, Que. — Max Domi arrived in Brossard with no guarantees he’ll be safe, and with no scientific data to rely on that would allow him to reasonably predict how coronavirus would affect him if he contracted it.

He came to play for the 24th-ranked team in a 24-team tournament for the Stanley Cup, in post-season games that will look and feel entirely different than the ones he’s always dreamed of playing in.

And you know what? The most important thing is that Domi feels comfortable with all of that.

For weeks, the debate has raged all around the 25-year-old, and without any sense for how he actually felt. Everyone asked: should someone with his condition — a Type 1 diabetic who suffers from Celiac disease — expose himself to the risk everyone else in the NHL’s return-to-play model is subjecting themselves to?

It’s never been for any of us to say. It’s always been up to Domi.

Can anyone find fault with how he, his agent, the doctors, the Canadiens, the NHL and NHLPA handled his particular concerns? They opted to wait seven to 10 days to see how protocols and procedures would be handled by people who’ve never submitted to such protocols and procedures before. They wanted to wait to see what test results produced over the first week of Phase 3 training camp — not just in Montreal, but in all other cities hosting teams that will participate in the games this summer. They left the decision to Domi and said they’d respect whatever he chose to do.

He chose to play. He said on Tuesday that he’s confident in his decision, that he doesn’t intend to go back on it, and he repeated the words “super excited” so many times it sounded like the chorus to a song he was singing.

How did Domi come to his decision?

“Top to bottom just asking lots of questions about how they’re going about it,” he said. “This is new for everyone, it’s a new circumstance. It’s uncharted territory, so no one really knows what to expect. From Day 1, the training staff and everyone has been handling this unbelievable and they’re getting better every day. Just as we are.

“We’re learning more and more day by day, and I think to have that little buffer there to make sure that when I got here it was super safe — not that it wasn’t at the start — worked out great. Now that I’m here, it’s awesome, and I’m just worried about Game 1 against Pittsburgh and super excited to be part of the group now.”

The data suggests people with diabetes are in a higher-risk category. Some of it says that people who manage their diabetes well — and Domi would be the poster boy for people who manage their diabetes well — would be less susceptible to becoming critically ill the way someone who doesn’t manage their diabetes well might be.

But, just like with everything to do with this pandemic, there’s too much we don’t know. And Domi doesn’t believe the sample size is quite large enough to draw any firm conclusions about whether or not he’s assuming a greater risk than anyone else involved in this tournament.

“I’d like to think that I’ve got pretty good control over my blood sugars and that definitely helps,” Domi said. “That being said, there’s no data saying if you have good control or you don’t it’ll affect it one way or another. But there’s no way of really knowing. You’re guessing at that point. So, personally, all I can do is just make sure I’m doing everything on my end to keep my blood sugars very stable.”

It’s what Domi’s been doing his whole life.

“It’s no secret that I’m a Type 1 diabetic. I’ve been pretty vocal about it and, like I alluded to before, I’ve got some great doctors on my side,” he said.

The source of Domi’s confidence he’ll be just as safe as anyone else is rooted in just how thorough he and everyone else involved was in the lead-up to his decision. And it’s buoyed by the technology he has available to him to track everything related to his disease and his general well-being.

“The league, the PA, and the Habs as well — I made sure I collected as much data as possible and communicated with all those people and got everyone on the same page,” the Winnipeg native said. “And as long as you’re doing everything on your end… I’m super lucky to be living in this era with all the technology we have. I wear a Dexcom (monitoring device) which allows me to see my blood sugar in real time every five minutes. That alone is something that five years ago, 10 years ago wasn’t where it is now. In that time, it would be a different discussion. But I’m lucky to be in this position I’m in now.

“Again, this is my decision, I’m not telling other Type 1 diabetics just to follow my lead here. I think everybody’s got to make their own decision based on their own experience, and they’re going to have family (involved) too. But for me it was a decision I thought long and hard about, obviously weighed every option, and I’m here now and super happy to be here and can’t wait to get started.”

Senior Writer Ryan Dixon and NHL Editor Rory Boylen always give it 110%, but never rely on clichés when it comes to podcasting. Instead, they use a mix of facts, fun and a varied group of hockey voices to cover Canada’s most beloved game.

It’s a process Domi’s been looking forward to since he was a kid watching his father, Tie, suit up for playoff games with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He’s 375 games into his NHL career and still waiting on his first post-season appearance.

“I think we’re all here for the same reason, we all have the same dream of winning,” Domi said. “I want to be a part of winning culture, and we’ve got a special group in there.

“You can spin it however you want, but we’re in the position we’re in and we’re going to make the most of it. We’re working hard every single day, and the boys look great. We’re super confident in each other and we’re a team that, when we get going, we can beat anyone. We know that, and we’re focused on Game 1 with Pittsburgh, and that’s all we’re going to really worry about right now.”

Those are words of a player who’s at peace with what would’ve been an extremely difficult decision for any of us.

And if you want a sense of what Domi playing (under these circumstances) means to his teammates, Ben Chiarot summed it up pretty well.

“He’s taking a different risk than any of us are taking,” the 29-year-old defenceman said. “Being away from your family or being away from, whatever, your friends for a period of time is a totally different risk than what he’s going through and how serious it could be, if we weren’t protected as we are and he was more at risk. The risk that he’s taking is obviously different, and it means a lot to me personally and the guys in the room that he’s here doing it with us — even with that risk.

“It’s not an easy decision for him and his family to make, and I’m happy that he’s here. He’s a well-liked guy in the room and he’s an important part of our team, so definitely happy to have Max here.”

It’s abundantly clear how Domi feels about it.

He doesn’t want to be treated differently. He doesn’t want to be judged for doing what some might have done differently had they been in his shoes.

Domi just wants to play hockey.

“It’s a risk for everyone. Not just the players. Not just our team, but every team involved,” he said. “The training staff, coaching staff, hockey ops — everyone’s in this together, we’re all in this together, and it’s a global pandemic so, globally, everyone’s at risk here.

“And all you can really talk about is the fact that we’re doing absolutely everything we can here, and like I said, the training staff has been remarkable. They’re doing everything they possibly can, so I’m very confident. I feel very safe and happy to be here.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.