MONTREAL – With just two days remaining the year, Canadian World Junior coach Benoit Groulx might have just clinched the Understatement of the Year Award for 2014. At least for the hockey world. When asked to comment on Max Domi, Groulx had this to say: “He’s really good.”
Domi has not just been “really good” for Canada in this tournament. In fact, it’s clear after Canada’s 4-1 victory over Finland, Domi has been “the best” player to put on a Canadian uniform so far in this tournament and with two goals and five points in three games, he’s a huge reason why Team Canada has a 3-0-0 mark going into the game for first place in Group A Wednesday night against USA. Domi has been an offensive catalyst with his slick puck skills around the opposing net, has been responsible for a good number of Canada’s offensive zone entries that have led to scoring chances, even blocks shots and has displayed a never-say-die attitude that has propelled the Canadian team.
Case in point was the second goal of the evening for both Canada and Sam Reinhart. The play began when Domi took a hit from Dallas prospect Julius Honka in the corner, then both players got tied up with one another. Once he extricated himself, Domi hustled back out of the zone, took a pass and gained entry, then passed to linemate Anthony Duclair, who fed Reinhart for the goal.
“I was at the end of my shift and we were both kind of laughing about it,” Domi said. “We were both caught up and we were like, ‘OK, what do we do here?’ We’d move and then we’d somehow still be locked up.” When asked about the hit Honka put on him to start the play, Domi said: “I fell. I’ve been falling a lot and I just fell.”
Domi, however, has not fallen one bit when it has come to providing the kind of leadership and offensive play this team has needed. When Canadian coach Brent Sutter remarked last year that Canada is not producing enough offensively talented players, he clearly could not have been talking about Domi, who has been a creative offensive star since his minor hockey days in Toronto. Of course, Sutter didn’t give himself a chance to see Domi’s offensive prowess since he cut Domi from the team last year. (Which is a rant for another day.)
“That’s Max Domi,” Groulx said of the second Canadian goal. “How is he going to get out of the zone? And it’s time to change and all of a sudden he’s out of the zone and he seems to get his second wind and gets the puck and gets into the zone and bing-bang, tic-tac-toe, the puck is in the net. A broken play and we end up with a goal because of (Domi’s) second effort, because of Sam Reinhart’s driving the net and because of the skill and poise of Anthony Duclair.”
Domi may have been the spawn of a brawler, but one thing many people don’t realize about Tie Domi is that he was a way above-average skater and didn’t get credit for his ability to make plays. Most players who become enforcers in the NHL are guys who can’t play the game and are forced into the fighting role out of necessity. But the senior Domi was a guy who could actually play the game who fought just because he liked doing it. And the younger Domi not only had the benefit of being around NHL players most of his life, but as he got older he was able to train with Sidney Crosby in the summer both on and off the ice. That kind of exposure is bound to make a difference.
For his part, Domi is saying all the right things off the ice, too. His dad could occasionally be accused of making the situation about himself, but all the younger Domi does is talk about the team. Every time he is asked about himself, he steers the conversation back to the others on his team.
“I’m playing with some pretty good linemates, so I just kind of feed off them and get lucky with a lot of it,” Domi said. “I’m trying to be part of the team and work hard like everyone is expected to do.”
The wins by Canada and USA Monday have set up a crucial game Wednesday night between the two teams that will see the winner of that game take first place in Group A. Should Canada win that game, it will play Friday night in Toronto against the fourth-place team in Group B, which will be one of Switzerland, Czech Republic or Denmark. If it loses the game against USA, it will face the third-place team in Group B at the same time and same place, which could end up being any one of the teams in Group B with the exception of Sweden. USA faces the same scenario if it wins or loses, but its quarterfinal game would be Friday in Montreal.