Max Domi believes the day will come when the first question reporters ask won’t be about life as the son of a famous NHLer.
Yes, he’s Tie’s boy, blessed with the same fire hydrant build and mischievous grin, but he’s a different type of player intent on carving his own path to the pros. While his father forged a long career on snarl and knuckles, soft hands and offensive flare will define Max’s hockey future.
“I’ve lived with it my entire life,” Domi said when yet another reporter arrived here to ask the 16-year-old London Knights centre about playing junior hockey with the famous last name across the back of his sweater.
“I don’t really focus on any of the negative stuff that comes with having an ex-NHLer for a dad. He played 18 years in the NHL, so whenever I have a question my dad is right there for me. I see it as a positive, not a negative.”
Domi is off to an impressive start in his first Ontario Hockey League season, sitting second in rookie scoring with 31 points in 31 games. He’s been chosen to play for Team Ontario at the 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Windsor, Ont., this month, and the Knights are the top-ranked junior team in the country.
“Our team is doing really well and it’s a great group of guys,” Domi said. “I just try to work hard and make my teammates around me better. You ask any hockey player about the best times in their life and they’ll tell you it was playing junior, so I’m trying to make the most of it.”
Although he spent most of his minor midget season checking out National Collegiate Athletic Association programs (he says he would have studied business), Domi ultimately chose the OHL and ended up enrolled at the Hunter Bros. School of Junior Hockey in London. Former NHLers Mark and Dale Hunter (who recently left to coach the Washington Capitals) have owned and operated the Knights since 2000, graduating talent such as Patrick Kane, Sam Gagner, Rick Nash and Corey Perry to the NHL.
“It’s a first-class organization,” Domi said. “It’s pretty special for a young guy like myself to come in here and have the support and resources of the Knights to help me. It has made the jump to junior a lot easier.”
Domi also has a sounding board in Knights assistant coach Dylan Hunter, who knows all about the burden of living up to a famous hockey surname. Hunter was a prolific scorer for the Knights when his dad Dale (the only NHL player to rack up more than 1,000 points and 3,500 penalty minutes) was behind the bench.
“I told Max: You have your identity and your dad had his,” Hunter said. “Just because it’s the same name on the back of the jersey doesn’t mean you’re the same player.
“We’ve talked about it [the pressure]a little bit, mostly about the guys chirping you on the ice. It gets old after a while. We laugh about it because it doesn’t really affect you, but for some reason guys think it does. Max is a good kid, he doesn’t go over the edge at all.”
They’ve also compared notes on unique childhoods spent in NHL arenas surrounded by some of the biggest names in the game. Hunter lists shooting on former Vézina Trophy winner Olaf Kolzig after Capitals practice as his most cherished memory, while Domi points to days off from school spent on the ice at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
“I’d take a bucket of pucks and dump them at centre, then skate around for hours,” Domi said. “I remember looking up and imagining those seats were full of people. Now that I’m in the OHL, I feel a step closer to making it happen.”
Domi is eligible for the 2013 NHL entry draft, and with the rule changes that have cut down on obstruction and put emphasis on speed, his smaller size (he’s very generously listed at 5 foot 10 and 184 pounds in the Knights program) isn’t expected to be an issue.
If it all pans out, Tie Domi might even one day be better known as the father of NHL star Max Domi.
“Me and my dad joke about that a lot,” Domi said with a laugh. “He gets me going and I give it right back to him. It’s definitely what I’m trying to do here.”