Coyotes’ Max Domi lets his hair down in a Q&A … sort of
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Max Domi can’t let his hair down. It won’t grow in that direction.
“It just ends up becoming an Afro,” Domi said at Coyotes Media Day on Sept. 14.
All the same, it felt like Domi was doing just that when he addressed the local media for the first time in the post-Shane Doan era. With the longtime face of the franchise gone, a new coaching staff in place and two years of NHL experience in his database, Domi is feeling more comfortable showing his true colors to the outside world.
He is an advocate for diabetes awareness because he has the disease. He meets kids with Type 1 diabetes once a month in Phoenix and spends time with kids on the road as well. He raised $70,000 this summer by shaving his beard for the cause.
Domi has also made a point of engaging every fan he meets because that’s the example Doan set for him, and the example Flyers legend Bobby Clarke set much earlier in Domi’s life.
With veteran leaders such as Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Derek Stepan and Niklas Hjalmarsson on the roster, Domi’s time to wear a letter may not be at hand, but he is part of the leadership group both general manager John Chayka and coach Rick Tocchet cite, and he is one of a handful of faces most readily identified with this organization.
Domi has the chops to handle that responsibility. His childhood was like an elite NHL education. He followed his dad, Tie, into NHL locker rooms. He met countless NHL players, coaches and managers. He learned how they carried themselves on and off the ice. He learned their workout and diet secrets and he witnessed the complex web of locker-room relations.
With a coach that preaches pace, and a remade roster that features a playmaking, right-handed center, Domi could be poised for a breakout season on all fronts. ArizonaSports.com sat down with Domi for a quick Q&A on his ramped up role with the franchise.
You have admitted that you’re more comfortable being yourself this season. Was that difficult to do as a rookie or second-year player when there were such strong, veteran players who had been here a while?
Domi: “Definitely. The first couple camps when you come in, you hesitate to speak too much. You don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. You go about your business and kind of fly under the radar, but every year, it seems that concern becomes a little smaller and I definitely embrace that responsibility as a leader.
“We’ve got a lot of guys coming into the league at a young age nowadays. In order for those guys to be successful, they have to feel confident, they have to feel comfortable so there’s no more treating rookies differently. Everyone is a part of the team. If they’re not confident and comfortable, your team isn’t going to do as good as it should.”
What did you learn playing with Shane Doan?
Domi: “The No. 1 thing I learned from a guy like Doaner is that he treats everyone the same. That’s hard to do and everyone is guilty of this: Sometimes, you’re in a bad mood, you’re tired, you don’t want to talk to someone and you’re rude so you let your guard down for two minutes and that leaves a poor reflection on yourself and sometimes on your team, too, if you snub someone.
“I never noticed that with Doaner. He’s always got his game face on because that’s just who he is as a person. I’ve never met someone like that before. He’s a guy I look up to and he really sets the bar for the person you’re trying to become.
“Everyone has so much respect for Shane, for what he did in this franchise and what he did in this league. He’s one of the most, if not the most respected people in hockey. I was privileged to play with him for a couple years and be around him for a couple years. I don’t think there is ever going to be another Shane Doan but there are lots of guys in this organization that are unbelievable players and good people, too.”
What did you learn from those formative year spent with your dad at the rink or in the locker room?
Domi: “Looking back, I can’t believe what I went through, meeting guys like [Hall-of-Famers] Mark Messier, Mario Lemieux and Mats Sundin. That just felt like the norm and it’s not the norm at all. I would like to have enjoyed it a little more but I got to watch those guys every single day and it opened my eyes to how to be an NHL player.
“I’ll give you an example. My dad stayed late with me in the room one day at Air Canada Centre just to play mini sticks or whatever… go steal a bunch of gum from inside the locker room and hockey tape and put it in all in little backpacks so I can run out of the locker room.
“I run back to get a Powerade and before I leave I see Mats Sundin drenched in sweat on a bike, going harder than I can ever imagine. No one was there. Literally, no one, so no one is watching him. He’s not doing it for other reasons. He’s doing it for himself; to get better today and he’s putting in the extra time. That kind of stuff goes a long way and it’s all the behind-the-scenes stuff that nobody gets a chance to see, and that’s what gets you to the NHL.
“I realized this is what you’ve got to do. It’s not going to be fun sometimes but I love to be a hockey player and I love to be in the NHL so it’s going to be worth it.”
Who do you want to be as a teammate?
Domi: “Just a guy that will do whatever he has to do for his teammates. Just have fun every day, stay positive and work as hard as possible. You want to be respected by your peers and you want to have a good reflection of yourself and your family, but you are who you are. The last thing you want to do is try and be someone you are not. A lot of people are going to like you and a lot of people aren’t going to like you. You just find ways to block out the negativity.
“It’s always going to be a team game and the whole individual thing is really irrelevant anyway. The team comes first and being a good teammate sometimes means doing something unselfish that is better for the team but not better for yourself. You sacrifice a lot of things for the better of the team and that’s how you have a successful franchise.
“Look at a guy like [Pittsburgh’s] Sidney Crosby. He had what, 89 points last season? I’m sure if he wanted to he could cheat around the ice and have 130 points and win all kinds of awards, but probably not win the Stanley Cup. Instead, he’s coming 10 feet lower on the ice, he’s doing extra stuff, going to the gym after a hard practice, eating right and when you do all that stuff it becomes contagious and once that happens the whole culture of the franchise and the locker room and the team seems to change.”
Who do you want to be to fans?
Domi: “That stuff is a whole different world and on a personal level, something that happened to me when I was a kid really affected me. I talked to Bobby Clarke. He took two minutes out of his day just to talk and what he did for me when I was 12 or 13 years old, that two-minute talk, every single day I reflect on that and think ‘geez, that really made a difference and I don’t know if I’d be where I am today without that.’
“If I can take a minute or two out of my day which is very doable — not a big deal at all — you can make the difference in some little girl or little boy’s life and hopefully one day they can look back in 20 years and say, ‘wow, that one minute Max Domi took out of his day made a difference.’
“When I talk with people about diabetes, I tell them I’m very fortunate to play in the NHL and I have a prime opportunity to have this platform that I can really do whatever I want with. I can do nothing and just kind of fly under the radar and not talk to anyone, which is totally fine, or I can share my experiences and try to help others out.
“I’ve tried to take the route of being proactive. I like going the extra mile and, selfishly, I learn just as much from them as they do from me. If you look at life that way, if you’re always engaged and have a purpose when you’re in a conversation, if you have attention to detail and really do care, I think it’s better and that’s something I want to be.”
“Primarily you’re going to be a hockey players and you have to be selfish in a way. You have to be focused and prepared and driven, but the part that makes you a pro is being able to do other things while still maintaining that attention to detail. It takes practice. It’s not easy and there are days when you say ‘damn, this is too much,’ but if you enjoy doing it, it makes it a lot easier. I really do enjoy doing it.”
How can Derek Stepan impact your game?
Domi: “He’s got experience playing with all different kinds of wingers like Rick Nash or Marty St. Louis or Chris Kreider and he’s a guy who likes to communicate a lot between shifts and drills so I’ll learn a lot from him.
“The other thing is he’s a right shot. As a leftie, to have a right shot at center is a whole other tool. He makes passes I’ve never received before. On Day 2 of training camp we were doing a bunch of 2-on-1, 2-on-2 drills. I seem to have always been the guy who passes and likes to pass instead of shooting. I gave him a pass and he did not even look at me once and he ripped one right back at me and I was like ‘holy smokes, I wasn’t expecting that.’ I was surprised but it was a good surprise because you’re like, ‘geez, how the heck did he see that?’ After a while, you stop getting shocked and expect it and that’s when it starts to click. If we do get a chance to play with each other, and I’m sure we will, it will be exciting.
“When you get a guy like Steps you’re going to be expected to elevate your game. You’re going to have to find ways to be a shooter sometimes. He has a presence that will be very noticeable on the ice.”
How did you process all the offseason changes?
Domi: “We’ve made a lot moves and change sucks. All of the sudden, you see all your buddies get traded and you think ‘what the heck is going on, why?’ But when change happens, you’re expected to ramp it up a little bit and change has to happen. What’s been going on here the last couple years is not acceptable by any means and the change had to happen. It happened and now it’s matter of us responding. I’m pretty confident we’re all going to respond the right way.”