For his 10 years with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the thought of Tie Domi wearing a Montreal Canadiens jersey of his own volition would have seemed impossible. But, when his son Max was acquired by the team on June 15, it became a lot more likely.
“It was funny. We were doing this thing for Twitter and someone asked that: if we’re going to see your dad in a Habs jersey,” the younger Domi said when meeting the Montreal media for the first time. “I’m going to try to get him to at least pose for a picture with one in the first game, here in Montreal. If you would have told anyone five, 10 years ago that Tie Domi was going to be a Montreal Canadiens fan I would have looked at you and laughed and said you were crazy. But I’m his son and I’m playing on one of the most historic franchises in all of sports and he’s the biggest Habs fan in the world now. So, that’s the reality and super excited to be a part of it and he’s just as pumped.”
Domi also confirmed what many people thought: That his choice of #13 was a tribute to his father’s close friend and teammate Mats Sundin.
“That’s 100% why I’m wearing #13,” he said. “It’s a little bit weird to see 13 with the last name Domi on the back of a Habs jersey. But I don’t really care, I think it looks great. It’s a great number. I wore it my whole childhood.”
In an alternate universe, there may have been Sundin on the back of that #13 Canadiens jersey. In June 2008, the Canadiens received exclusive negotiating rights with the Toronto Maple Leafs legend, but the team could not come to terms and Sundin eventually signed with the Vancouver Canucks.
Domi switched to #13 from #16, which was a tribute to former Philadelphia Flyer Bobby Clarke. Domi started to wear #16 when he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at 12 years old.
Sundin is sort of an uncle to him, according to Domi and the two still have a relationship, and he also continues to get advice from his father.
“I definitely can’t change my last name, that’s for sure,” Domi said. “But it’s part of who I am and there’s a lot of positives that come with that. I got a lot of childhood experiences and memories that you can’t make up: getting to go to the Air Canada Centre and getting to call a guy like Mats Sundin something like your uncle... I mean he still sends me little workouts to do throughout the summer. If I don’t shoot the puck — which I didn’t shoot the puck that well last year — he’s the first guy to text me.”
“And even if you wanted to see how my dad handles stuff like this, how he would endure all the ups and downs of an 82-game season, something you’re not playing great, how do you get through that, it’s the work ethic and just doing whatever it takes to win.
“I focus on the positives of that and I don’t know if I’d be where I am today without the help. I mean, he’s been out of the NHL for I don’t know how many years; I’ve been in the NHL for three. And he still sends me texts after every game kind of the same sort of thing he did when I was in minor hockey. Hes not really worried about the goals and the assists and the points, he’s more worried about the discipline and the hard work and just being a good teammate and winning. That’s all it’s about. And he’s made that very clear since I was a kid, he’s really ingrained that, so I take a lot of pride in listening to him.”
But he never asked his father for one of his sticks.
“He was a [right-handed shot], right? So i didn’t get to use his stick. His curve was terrible anyways. That thing was like a shovel. It’s more of like a dump-and-chase stick.”
One thing that is clear when speaking to him is how passionate Domi is about the game, and that also was something that started when he was young.
“I took a hockey stick everywhere with me when I was a kid. Most kids would sleep with like teddy bears or bunnies or whatever. I slept with a hockey stick. I don’t know how comfortable that would have been, but ... back in the day when they were wooden sticks, too.
“As soon as someone walked in my front door in Mississauga, doesn’t matter who they were, how tall they were, how old they were, what gender they were, I was like ‘you’re coming down and I’m shooting some tennis balls on you in the basement before you do anything. You’re not allowed to go say ‘hi’ to anyone,’ just, ‘let’s go play mini sticks.’ So I was pretty keen on opening the door.
“That’s kind of the memories that stick out the most, is just always wanting to play hockey every day that I was a kid. I mean obviously school was a big part of that, but for me it was always ... ‘I can’t wait for practice’, ‘I can’t wait for the game on Friday, Saturday,’ waking up at six in the morning and ultimately getting to play in the NHL one day, and now I’m living that, so it’s pretty surreal.”
Domi was incredibly complimentary of the Arizona Coyotes organization but also clearly excited to play in Montreal.
“I haven’t been able to stop smiling the whole time,” he said.
“Some people might not want to play in a market like this, other people might want to, other people might not care. I definitely am truly excited to be here and I want to be here, and I’m hoping that this brings out the best in me. and, you know what, excited to step into a team that’s got a lot of great hockey players on it already.”
Domi has some history of playing as the home team in Montreal. He was part of Team Canada at the 2015 World Juniors, who played their round robin games at the Bell Centre.
“I remember the game against the Americans, we beat them on New Year’s Eve and that was one of the highlights of my life so far. That was in front of a crowd that was second to none, really, the atmosphere... And that was for a Team Canada game.”
Domi scored two goals in that game - the opening goal, and the empty-netter to clinch the 5-3 win.
“In Toronto it’s more or less the same thing with the NHL and World Juniors, but when you throw the Montreal Canadiens in the mix versus Team Canada... completely different animal, right? So I’m excited to play in this building with the real jersey on now, and to represent that is a huge honour and I can’t wait to play in this rink.”