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NHL locker rooms feel like home for Max Domi

Thursday, 07.11.2013 / 9:22 AM / NHL Insider

By Jerry Brown - NHL.com Correspondent

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NHL locker rooms feel like home for Max Domi
Thanks to his father, Max Domi grew up in NHL locker rooms. A 2013 first-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes, he could be back in NHL locker room very soon

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Like so many Canadian boys, Max Domi has dreamed of playing in the NHL since the first time he laced up a pair of skates.

But how many of those boys imagine scoring goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs while skating on the ice at Air Canada Centre? How many get to call Mats Sundin, "Uncle Mats," or can pull up a chair next to their dad in the Maple Leafs locker room?

For Phoenix Coyotes 2013 first-round pick Max Domi, it's the only life he's ever known. The son of Maple Leafs fan favorite Tie Domi can't remember a time without a hockey stick in his hand and rubbing shoulders with the game's elite. And though he turned 18 in March, it might not be very long before the No. 12 pick is walking into an NHL locker room and seeing his own name above a dressing stall.

Unlike his father, who ranks third on the all-time NHL list with 3,515 penalty minutes, Max's calling card is his offensive skills. He doesn't shy away from contact, but he's not looking for a fight.

"Dad's a little grumpier than me sometimes," the younger Domi said. "He had some fun out there on the ice and did whatever he had to do to stay [in the NHL] and help his team out. He's definitely a huge role model for me, and there are parts of his game and work ethic in me, for sure."

On the Coyotes, who have strong goaltending and a number of quality defensemen but are short on scoring depth, Domi's skating ability, passing skills and finishing flair will earn him close scrutiny during this week's prospects camp.

Coyotes general manager Don Maloney has been reluctant to push young prospects too fast after getting mixed results from current and former Coyotes Mikkel Boedker, Martin Hanzal, Peter Mueller and Kyle Turris. But Domi's maturity level and lack of awe makes him a unique case -- that, and a set of tools that catch the eye quickly.

"He's been around the game his whole life, and that gives Max a better chance to adapt quickly," Maloney said. "And he's not that 165-pound 18-year-old who has to grow into his body. He's a solid 195 pounds and in great physical shape."

The Coyotes ranked 21st in goals per game and 25th on the power play last season. Maloney signed free-agent center Mike Ribeiro to a four-year, $22 million contract to play between Boedker and Shane Doan on the first line but needs someone to skate with second-liners Hanzal and Radim Vrbata.

Ray Whitney had 77 points two seasons ago on that line, and Vrbata tied for the NHL lead with 12 game-winning goals. Whitney moved to the Dallas Stars last season, Steve Sullivan was a disappointment as his replacement, and Vrbata had one game-winner. Could Domi, who had 39 goals and 87 points last season with the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League and 32 points in 21 OHL playoff games, get the first shot at top-six minutes?

"You don't want to push too fast, but he checks a lot of boxes," Maloney said. "Although we're the last people to start projecting 18-year-olds on our roster, he has a skill set that we might just need next year."

Domi's work ethic also is born of necessity. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 13 and wears an insulin pump attached to his hip during games. He is in constant communication with trainers to monitor his blood sugar levels, taking in food and fluids if those levels drop. If they rise, it's time for insulin.

"I think [dealing with diabetes] has helped me out a lot as a person and a hockey player," Domi said. "You learn discipline and attention to detail. You have to eat properly, sleep properly, the whole nine yards. It teaches you to have a professional attitude at a young age."

It also gave him a role model. While in the hospital shortly after being diagnosed, Max and Tie were watching a hockey documentary featuring Bobby Clarke, who led the Philadelphia Flyers to the only two Stanley Cup championships in their history on the way to a 15-year career that culminated with a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame -- all the while doing it with diabetes.

"This scary dude with no teeth came on the screen and my dad started getting a little emotional," Domi said. "He told me about Clarke being a diabetic and playing so long, and it was inspiring. I read up on him, and at the time I was playing for the Don Mills Flyers, so it was a no-brainer to switch my number to [Clarke's] 16."

Clarke and Domi met at a Silver Stick tournament in Ontario a few years later.

"My mom stopped him in the hallway and said, 'I don't normally do this, but would you say hello to my son?'" Domi said. "He did better than that. He came into the room and gave our team a great pregame speech. If you look what he had to go through to play compared to now with all the strides in technology, it was pretty amazing. He paved the way for all diabetics."

Domi, who threw out the first pitch at the Arizona Diamondbacks game Tuesday, said he has no interest in getting ahead of himself. Every time a reporter talks about a possible fast track to the NHL, he repeats the same mantra about working hard, listening and taking things a day at a time.

"My job is to improve and understand what is expected of me," he said. "If I'm a better player tomorrow, I'm that much closer."

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