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Son of a Gun: A Domi of a Different Caliber

Well, Papa must be proud. His boy has gone into the family business.

You all remember Tie Domi, right? Known as an enforcer, only two other NHL players logged more penalty minutes than he did. Dave 'Tiger' Williams and Dale Hunter are the only players to have spent more time warming the bench in the sin bin and, interestingly, all three played for the Toronto Maple Leafs at one time or another.

Although Tie was never a goal scorer or a playmaker, the bottom line is there are a few hundred jobs in the NHL and you still have to be a damn good hockey player to get one. Apparently his son, Max, has not only inherited the genes but has the other kind of hockey talent. The goal scoring and play making kind.

The Phoenix Coyotes selected Max 12th overall in this summer's draft after an impressive performance at the Memorial Cup and have subsequently signed him to a three-year, entry-level contract. With 39 goals and 87 points in 64 games last season with the Ontario Hockey league's London Knights, Domi was the Knights leading scorer and had the top plus minus on his team.

Additionally, Hockey Canada has named him to the roster for the 2013 National Junior Team summer development camp and he is expected to be named to the team when it is announced later this year.

Congratulations Max. And Tie.

I'm not a news reporter anymore and even if I was, I wouldn't be reporting that bit of news. But seeing it roll past on my feed did get me thinking. Reminded me of Tie.

Where O Where Have all the Enforcers Gone?

I remember sitting at a Winnipeg Jets game. The old Jets. The original Jets. It was the year Selanne scored his 76 goals - his rookie season. It was exciting times. The fans, always a great crowd, were beyond themselves with love for the Finnish Flash. And Tie Domi.

If some unfortunate player happened to look askance at our hero, out would come Domi the next time the poor bugger was on the ice. And Domi's job was to remind that unfortunate player that they needed to keep their hands off the merchandise. 

The crowd, just finishing up with a Teemu chant would morph into Domi! Domi! Domi! They would look at their neighbor with a smirky sort of smile as if to say, "Well, what did he expect?"

Indeed.

The idea was the next time they'd think twice, maybe not take the chance. And Domi would sit in the penalty box and smile away. His job included a lot of sitting in the penalty box.

There are those, and I am one of them, that believe one of the reasons no one is going to ever overtake Gretzky's stats is that with the instigator penalty, the NHL effectively ended the era of the enforcer. I also believe it is why we see so many injuries to marquee players, watch so many stars in the making falter and fall with broken bones, pulled ligaments and wrecked joints.

If you messed with Gretzky, Dave Semenko came out and tuned you up. Or, later, Marty McSorley. Coaches took that seriously. It was sometimes a deterrent, always a caution.

And that was why we got to see some of the amazing hockey that we did. Gretzky was free to be Gretzky. Everyone on that team protected the prime asset and the team, the league and the game were better for it. I miss that old style hockey, to be frank. Oh for the days when the neutral zone was unclogged, when a dirty play begat a retaliation that actually cost something and the best players in the league could entertain, amaze and impress us with the full effect of their skill. 

And I do not mean to imply that I favour dirty play, because I don't. I don't at all mean to imply that. All dirty play should beget some form of penalty. I merely suggest that two minutes in the box for knocking Crosby off the puck with a cheap shot or a potentially dangerous act is a penalty any coach would take ... and likely call a good one. No player, Gretzky or Crosby, should be protected by the referees - that is the most foolish thought imaginable; they need to call the game the same for everyone. Which was why McSorley rode shotgun ... to right the wrongs best not righted by the officials.

I don't mean to channel Grapes - but on this he and I agree. I watched Sidney Crosby get tossed around like a rag doll the past few years. And aside from a well intentioned effort here or there from his wingers Dupuis or Kunitz or even Orpik, everyone got away with it. We couldn't send Matt Cooke out to send a message because it would have been a major penalty ... maybe a suspension. You can't keep dropping players from your roster with instigator issues ... so you scrunch your face and bite your tongue and watch a generational talent get pushed around simply because the other guys can get away with it.

Way back when, when I was a kid, if some jackass bullied you, your father drove over and explained to their father how that should stop. If it didn't stop your cousin or your brother or your best friend took care of it. And no one mentioned it again.

I have a cousin who is mentally handicapped with Downs Syndrome. One of 8 brothers in a hockey family, he became a rink rat - always hanging out at the local rink cheering for one of his brother's teams. One night some of the local kids took him outside and tormented him while 6 of his brothers were inside, on the ice, playing hockey.

Somehow word got out that this was happening and like magic the ice and half the bench emptied and "the boys", still in skates, trekked outside. Well, as local lore has it, they laid an ass-kicking on those tormentors and went back in and won the hockey game. The coach and the referees and even the other team simply pretended it was a sanctioned time out. 

Other than the legend that spread, no one ever mentioned it and, certainly, no one called the police or reported the incident. Justice had been served. Blind eyes are useful things, sometimes.

And they never did it again.

Today, the rink staff would report the incident, the police would be called, all the players would be suspended, possibly sent to court-ordered anger management classes, it would be reported in the paper and someone would post a video of it on facebook.

Yes, times have changed.

And watching Crosby or Toews or Stamkos get bullied every second they are on the ice is something I will have to get used to - because Domi was the last of a dying breed. I wonder how he will feel about it if his son, certain to attract the same chippy just-this-side-of-dirty and certainly not "clean" attention, is sidelined because there was no one there to stop it. 

I heard someone say, not long ago - maybe it was even Cherry,  that fighting in hockey is still seen, by the players and the fans, as an honourable enough way for two men to settle a dispute. It's unfortunate that the same sense of honour does not prevade other aspects of the game.

In short: stupid instigator rule. When honour fails, we simply have to suck it up. I liked it better when guys like Domi kept it a little more ... honest.

I miss you (and all those like you) Tie Domi. Thanks for the smirky memories.

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