TORONTO – The 2015/16 season was a learning year for Arizona Coyotes forward Max Domi. His rookie campaign culminated with an opportunity to represent Team Canada at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship where the where the 21-year-old scored one goal in 10 games as Canada took home gold.
Being one of the youngest members of the team, Domi had his head on a swivel trying to soak up whatever he could from some of Canada’s top talent.
“Getting to play with the roster that we had there and just watching those guys and seeing how they prepare, guys like Corey Perry, Brad Marchand, Brendan Gallagher - the list goes on and on - Matt Duchene,” Domi said.
“Seeing these guys get ready for a game, you can't put into words what you learn from those guys just watching them and seeing how they prepare, seeing how they recover and all that stuff, just the mental capacity that they have throughout a game and just how they can turn it on like that, it's fun to see and it's definitely motivating as a young guy in the league.”
The gold medal at the Worlds was just the latest piece of international hardware for the Toronto resident. Domi won bronze at the 2012 World U-17 Hockey Challenge, gold at the 2012 Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and gold at the 2015 World Junior Championship with the U20 team.
At the NHL level, Domi had a solid rookie season scoring 18 goals and 34 assists in 81 games. His 52 points were second to only defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson in team scoring.
Domi’s performance in his first NHL season saw him finish sixth in Calder Trophy voting as the league’s top rookie.
“Its an 82-game season so it's a long haul, but our team did great this year, we learned a lot about each other and we know what it's going to take to be more successful next year,” Domi said. “There's no reason we can't make the playoffs next year, it's just a matter of finding that consistency and we've got the guys to do it - a good balance of young and older guys, everyone's going to be able to chip in.
“The coaching staff is second to none really and with a goalie in Mike Smith that, in my opinion, is the best goalie in the league. It's going to help us out a lot. Really looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun.”
Off the ice, Domi is a long way from home playing in Glendale, Arizona. Born in Winnipeg and raised in Toronto, Domi spent four seasons playing with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights.
It was after his second season with the Knights where he scored 39 goals and 87 points in 64 games that the Coyotes used their first-round selection (12th overall) to pick the 5-foot-10, 198-pounder at the 2013 NHL Draft.
“Honestly, it was so much fun and I wouldn't want to play anywhere else,” Domi said of Arizona. “The lifestyle there, the people, how good of people they are, all the good, healthy restaurants, it's so healthy. You can go hiking on your off-days.
“Realistically, sports there are huge. It's just like anywhere: if you win, you're going to get the outcome you want, if you don't win, then it's not going to be as much (support) as you want. For us, and the hockey side of things, we're out there in Glendale and we're all very happy out there. It's a great facility, great people in the organization and we've just got to find a way to put together some wins next year, and then go from there.”
Arizona finished the 2015/16 season with a 35-39-8 record, fourth in the Pacific Division - nine points back of the final wild card in the Western Conference. It marked the fourth consecutive season the Coyotes missed the playoffs.
As a result, Domi and his teammates were forced to watch the Stanley Cup playoffs on television. The experience of being on the outside looking in was a new one for Domi who qualified for the OHL playoffs in each of his four seasons with the Knights.
Having to watch the playoffs on TV has Domi motivated heading into his second NHL season.
“I just watched every game and was like. 'I want to be in that game so bad',” he said. “You get that kind of itch, that feeling and that hunger, next year hopefully that translates into our game and when you watch it, it's just so thrilling and so exciting. Everything is on the line so that's the best time of year and we want to be a part of that next year.”