Thursday, February 9, 2012

February 9, 1992 - A Classic

Rangers and Red Wings In a Tie on Brawl Way
Published: Monday, February 10, 1992

This wasn't free-flowing, fight-free, Olympic-style hockey last night at Madison Square Garden. Despite the match of two good first-place teams, it wasn't even the honestly rugged style of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

At times, it seemed as if the Rangers and the Red Wings should have taken off the skates, left through the back door and continued in the alley using broken broom handles for sticks, crushed tin cans for pucks and clenched fists as instruments of debate. The ice on the pavement couldn't have been any worse than that inside the building, and the behavior of the street people on Eighth Avenue couldn't have been more ornery than that of the players.

When it was over, more than three hours after it began, both teams had to settle for a 5-5 tie, no more and no less than either deserved, before a roaring, sellout crowd of 18,200.

In addition, there were these developments: One Detroit player and his coach faced suspension; Mike Gartner of the Rangers tied a prestigious record; 10 players scored, three of them while their team was shorthanded; four players were ejected, and Tie Domi had opened the Garden's annual dog show a day early by playing pit bull to big Bob Probert's Doberman in one of those classic hockey fights that everyone both loves to hate and hates to love.

Bryan Murray, coach and general manager of the Red Wings, said, "It was a dirty hockey game."

The Red Wings' Probert said about Domi: "He's a goon. I'll get that little dummy back in Detroit."

Domi said about Probert: "Funny that he keeps calling me 'dummy, dummy, dummy.' He's not known to be a rocket scientist."

The Rangers led, 3-2, after one period and the score was tied, 5-5, after two. Adam Graves and Mark Messier scored while New York was short-handed. Darren Turcotte scored on the power play. Brian Leetch and Gartner scored at even strength. It was Gartner's 13th consecutive season with at least 30 goals, tying him with Bobby Hull and Phil Esposito for that record.

For Detroit, Steve Yzerman, Keith Primeau and Sheldon Kennedy scored while Detroit was at even strength. Ray Sheppard scored a power-play goal and Bobby Dollas scored a short-handed one.

Both teams complained about the chippy ice and many had much to say about the chippy play in the first two periods, a style that dominated the mood of the game. Meanwhile, Yves Racine of Detroit faces a 10-game suspension for leaving the penalty box to join a multiplayer brawl.

"I just lost it," he said.

N.H.L. rules say the coach of a player who does that is suspended for five games and fined $1,000.

The main event featured Domi, who is generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, and Probert, who is 6-3 and 215. Domi said he took it upon himself to fight Probert midway through the first period after Probert had checked several Rangers with body and stick.

Despite not using an injured right arm, Domi opened a four-stitch cut over Probert's right eye. Probert punched Domi's helmet from his head and landed several blows that seemed to stagger Domi. At one point during the fight, Domi seemed headed for the ice, a situation that always results in officials breaking up the battle. Probert seemed to hold him up so that the bout could continue.

Several other players paired off in two different incidents. Ejected were Steve Chiasson, Gerard Gallant and Racine of Detroit and Joe Cirella of the Rangers.

"I don't know if I won, but I showed up," Domi said. "Probert has been heavyweight champ a long time. I like long fights. The longer I go, the better I get. I wasn't stunned, not one bit. When I saw the blood on his face, I was kind of happy. I heard the fans going crazy when I was fighting and that kept me going."

Murray wasn't happy with the way Ranger coach Roger Neilson used Domi. Later, Domi baited Probert again so that both went off together with 10-minute misconducts.

"I understand why Al Arbour has a hard time with Roger," Murray said.

Both teams have many players who have played for both sides. Long after the game, they lingered in the corridor, socializing with the enemy. They meet only once more, on March 20, unless both reach the Stanley Cup finals.

With Head Shaved And Fists Cocked, Domi Finds Trouble 
Published: March 9, 1992

There it was, that word. Coming from Bob Probert, of all people, wayward enforcer for the Detroit Red Wings. 

"He's a goon," Probert had said, after the big fight at Madison Square Garden last month. "He's out there for one reason. He's a dummy." 

The words wounded Tahir Domi, son of an Albanian restaurateur, proponent of the hard-knuckles, soft-rules school of ice hockey. The Ranger forward, nicknamed Tie long ago in elementary school, could not believe that Probert, one of his heroes, a heavyweight much like himself, would say such a thing. 

"That bothered me," Domi said. "He's been heavyweight champ for a long time. I still respect him. I'd been wanting him for three years. I just hope he remembered what got him where he is." 

Domi will never forget what got him from Belle River, Ontario, all the way to a Ranger team that is ready -- labor relations and springtime hexes aside -- to challenge for the Stanley Cup. Domi's edge, the asset that transformed him from lightweight pug to National Hockey League heavyweight, is his head. 

Not the inside, where Domi's nimble brain works overtime figuring out which of his elaborate superstitions needs updating. 

The outside. 

The big skull. Shaved by his brother, Dash, "down to the wood." Adorned with as little hair as possible, to give Domi what he calls "kind of a unique look." 

"I'm fortunate my parents put me on this earth with a hard head," Domi said. "I've got short arms, so I've got to take a lot of punches before I sort of work my way in there." 

Domi pokes this skull of his where it is not welcome. He is in the face of Probert, in the face and fists of Mick Vukota of the Islanders. He is jabbing and jabbering. That is his job. In itself, that would not offend those in the National Hockey League who long ago accepted, even embraced, the morality of violent intimidation. 

What bothers Probert, and the others, is something else entirely. For Domi, this rumbling is not only a way to eke out a living. He has gone beyond that, beyond the 229 penalty minutes, beyond professionalism. Tie Domi, uppercuts flying, helmet spinning, manic grin on his unshaven mug, revels in the warfare. At times, he appears to be a madman in a mad sport, which makes a lot of people squeamish. 

There is the way he goes hunting for trouble, even where there is none to be found. Domi chased after the United States Olympic team during a gentlemanly exhibition match at the Garden. At one point, he challenged David Quinn, who is a hemophiliac, to a fight with a slight smack to the cheek. He could not stop treating this game, any game, as if it were the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final. 

There is the way Domi has celebrated after his fights and his two goals this season. He has spun his fingers, like Hulk Hogan, toward one side of the rink and then toward another. He has donned an imaginary heavyweight title belt. He has banged away at a speedbag, suspended somewhere above center ice where only Domi could see it. And after his two goals this season, Tie Domi has ridden his stick over the ice like a witch on midnight prowl. 

The stick shtick, he says, will go. Maybe. 

"Nobody told me to stop, I just decided, I think," said Domi, who borrowed that routine from his hero, the legendary bruiser Tiger Williams of Toronto. "If it's a big goal in the playoffs, who knows? The speedbag, that's my trademark. That's got to stay." 

People have stood up and noticed. At the Garden, fans groan audibly when Domi is scratched from the lineup, which still happens about every other game when Joe Kocur is healthy. Domi, with his big black shoulder pads and cartoon mannerisms, is a folk hero in the blue-turned- teal seats. 

Part of the allure, no doubt, is his size. At 5 feet 10 inches, tops, Domi can never be typecast as a bully. 

"It's an advantage I have," Domi said. "If I beat the other guy, he looks bad. I'm expected to lose." 

According to Domi, he has not lost yet. Other judges have awarded Probert and Vukota their fights on points. Do not suggest this to Domi. 

"I read where I was supposed to have lost to Vukota," Domi said. "He didn't hit me once. My shirt went up. I don't even consider him a featherweight. He's just a wrestler." 

"Probert?" Domi said. "I'm not scared of anyone, no matter how big. I can't be intimidated." 

Since every team in the N.H.L. has an enforcer, every team needs one. That is the logic of the league. Kocur and Domi are the Rangers' two runaway libidos. They will continue to alternate for the rest of the season, unless the Rangers are playing a team with two bad guys. Then, the Rangers will need both their blue meanies. 

Kocur, a close friend of Probert, is also an adviser to Domi. The two Rangers often hold sparring sessions at the team's practices, but they are clearly at different stages of their careers. Domi is trying to gain respect, to promote dread in opponents who sneer at him. Kocur, still feared for his jawbreaking punch, would prefer to avoid confrontation these days. His wounded right fist has smashed into too many helmets. 

Domi, the pit bull on ice, is a poodle mascot in the locker room. He is everybody's little brother. Mark Hardy, James Patrick, Mark Messier take care of him. 

"Thanks, big brother," Domi will say, at the tiniest bit of advice. 

"If I'm his big brother, I did a great job, huh?" Hardy will say. 

To his teammates, Domi is an endless source of amusement. They watch him, shake their heads at his practice rituals, at his pranks and boasts. The team is part of his extended family now, like the relatives from Albania and in-laws from Yugoslavia that his father, Islam, and mother, Meryem, helped to settle in Canada. 

Domi's father died last year. This past summer, Domi broke off an engagement with a woman back in Toronto, in part because his teammates advised him he was too young to settle down. "They were right," he said. "I mean, I'm in New York. What was I thinking?" 

Now the 22-year-old eligible bachelor's most important dates are with the front teeth of opponents. 

"Tie is Tie," said Adam Graves, who rooms with Domi in Port Chester, N.Y. "I knew him when we were both in the Ontario Hockey League, when he already had a reputation. He was just always more aggressive than everybody else. You've got to respect him for what he is." 

There was a time, in Junior A hockey, when Domi was considered a scorer, not a fighter. Later on, he could still skate, but his stickhandling and shooting skills were purely minor league. He had to transform himself into something else, something scrappier and scarier. 

Rangers General Manager Neil Smith saw Domi playing for Peterborough, Ontario, and remembered to remember him. In June 1990, Smith acquired Domi in a trade from Toronto along with Mark Laforest in exchange for Greg Johnston. 

"Nobody at that point took him seriously," Smith said. "But I always try to make a list of tough guys with skills good enough to play in the league. The toughest guy in junior hockey can be as effective sometimes as a skill player." 

He battles to stay under control, to contribute with some clean forechecking and an occasional streak down the right wing. He does not use his stick to carry out vendettas, as some players do. 

There is a thin line between intimidation and stupid penalties, and Domi has been trying to cross it fewer times lately. He did so against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Feb. 20, when he went into the penalty box twice while the Islanders' lead grew from 2-1 to 5-1. 

He did it again on Saturday at Philadelphia, when he was whistled for interference against Rod Brind'Amour, and Philadelphia scored a go-ahead goal on the power play. But he baited Flyer bully Dave Brown into a roughing penalty in the third period, and skated away from trouble. 

"They're going to blow a much tighter whistle with Tie than with the other players," Smith said. "It's human nature to keep an eye on the young, wild players. But Tie can't change. His game is to make the other team watch out." 

When he is at his most effective, Domi will shove a more valuable opponent off his game, then take him to the penalty box for coincidental majors. The man that Domi really wants to take with him is Probert, when the two meet again on March 20. The last time they warred, it was a battle to remember. 

It started with Probert calling Domi "dummy," three times, outside the face-off circle. Domi was afraid Probert would skate away when he dropped his gloves, making him look stupid. He lurched at his antagonist. Probert landed some punches and pulled Domi up, away from the ice. Domi struck back, despite an injured right arm, cutting Probert for four stitches above the eye. 

Last week, Domi wanted to know whether he would get a second shot at Probert, on March 20. Neilson told him he would. 

"I'll be there in Detroit," Domi said. 

For the heavyweight championship of something.

No comments: