By Ryan George
The Intelligencer & Wheeling News Register
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ Tie Domi paused after practice at the Wheeling Civic Center Wednesday to recall one of his first practice sessions in the National Hockey League.
Domi was a rookie with the Maple Leafs in 1986 and still remembers the head coach who took an interest in his development.
That head coach, also in his first year with the Leafs, was John Brophy.
“Brophy would hit my butt with his stick as I skated around the circles,” said Domi.
“When I stopped, he said, ‘Don’t stop! You stop when I tell you to stop!”
Sixteen years later, the pair have come full circle.
Domi is still drawing an NHL paycheck and Brophy – who coached Toronto from 1986-89 – joined Scotty Bowman last season as the only two men ever to coach 1,000 professional hockey victories.
Some may have questioned Brophy’s stern tactics over the years but not Domi, who still has a soft spot in his heart for the man who gave him his first shot at the big time.
“He was just trying to show me how tough it is up here,” said the Maple Leafs’ enforcer.
The Toronto team was picking up stakes at the Civic Center Wednesday morning, after spending the last two days in town for a final tuneup before tonight’s regular-season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena.
It may have seemed odd to some that the Maple Leafs would leave the comforts of their own hockey hotbed for a couple of days in the comparatively pastoral setting of the upper Ohio Valley but head coach Pat Quinn had his reasons.
With his team coming under increasing scrutiny for its inability to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup in recent years, Quinn – who also serves as the team’s general manager – thought he needed to get his team out of the public eye before the season began.
There is apparently a strong negative vibe surrounding Quinn’s team and its lack of postseason success back home in Ontario so he came up with the idea of taking the team on the road en masse in hopes of forging a bond between the players.
Some of the players felt it was a good idea.
“It was good for the guys to get out of the city life and spend time together,” said winger Darcy Tucker of his stay in Wheeling.
Despite an average payroll of $2.3 million – the highest of any Canadian NHL team – Quinn knows that money doesn’t always talk in professional sports.
No matter who the noted coach puts on the ice, his success or failure will be judged – quite harshly, he feels – by his hometown media and the Maple Leafs’ rabid fans.
“We have to go against more scrutiny in Toronto than any other team,” said Quinn.
“It’s the hockey mecca of the world and – good or bad – teams will be under the microscope all of the time.”
So how did the Leafs pass their off-ice time in Wheeling?
“Can’t you tell by my tan,” joked the porcelain-white Domi.
One thing all the players could agree on is that they enjoyed the golf courses at Oglebay Park.
They were also surprised by the number of deer they saw running through the hilly terrain near their cabins.
“I’ve seen more deer in the last two days,” said Darcy Tucker, “than I have in a long, long time.”
Quinn’s hopes were to bring together a group of guys that didn’t all play together a season ago.
The most noted of those is goaltender Ed Belfour, who signed with the team in July after leading the Dallas Stars to a Stanley Cup championship in 1999.
Belfour is confident the team will be ready to make a run come playoff time.
“We got a chance to play together a couple of times and we’re only going to get better as the season goes along,” said the five-time NHL All-Star.
Domi knew the trip was to bring a unity to the group of guys and refocus on the goal at hand this season.
The Maple Leafs’ elder statesman pronounced the venture a success.
“We let the new guys know we want to win and we’ve come up short the last couple years,” said Domi.
“But to have Robert Svehla come in here and say, ‘Tie, the main thing is winning,’ was great to hear,” said Domi of Svehla, who played in the Stanley Cup finals for Florida when the Panthers fell to Colorado in 1995.
For the Leafs’ other goaltender, Trevor Kidd, the trip to Wheeling brought back some fond memories of his youth.
“I come from a small town back home in a country-type situation and this certainly reminds me of this,” said Kidd.
Golf appeared to be the preferred mode of recreation for the players, although they were willing to try anything to get out of their cabins.
In keeping with the “bonding” theme, Quinn had bunked the players eight to a cabin.
Even so the players said they enjoyed the change of pace and did manage to settle one burning question during their stay.
Alexander Mogilny is the worst roommate in the world.
“He kept me up all night,” complained Domi.
“He just snores like you wouldn’t believe.”