The Beach Got Max Domi Ready For the Second-Half Grind
There are two sides to playing hockey, physical and mental, and we often disregard the latter, because we only pay to watch the former. The physical side of hockey is obvious. We watch guys on the ice a few times every week. The mental side of hockey drives the physical, but isn’t visible from the 300 level or through a broadcast.
While the rest of us were watching either the All-Star festivities in Florida on television or “appreciating” social media posts from NHL players on beaches or golf courses somewhere significantly warmer than Chicago, players were trying to hit a reset button — physically and mentally.
For Max Domi, that reset button required one thing: sand.
“[Taking a break is] as much mental as it is physical,” Domi said after practice on Sunday. “Certainly, the physical side of it is a complete game-changer. Just being able to get the body somewhat back to where it needs to be. Obviously six days isn’t quite enough to fully recover but just enough that, I’ve got a little jump back in my step. And mentally you feel a little sharper.”
Domi was brought to Chicago on a one-year, prove-it deal to re-establish himself as a center in the NHL. And he’s been terrific this year, exceeding the expectations of most. He finished the first half of the season tied for the team lead with 14 goals and leading the team with 35 points. Domi was one of only five players to appear in all 48 games before the break. And he’s winning 55 percent of his faceoffs, which is a lovely, unexpected bonus from a really good first half.
Being there, being on, every day since September is a drag. Heck, I was thankful for a few days to pull back and work on some other stuff as a writer; players are getting beat up every day working on their craft. It can exhaust the physical and mental sides of the game. And, for Domi, being as far away from the game as possible was a welcomed separation before things get tough.
“Trying to not think about hockey is the main thing,” he said. “It’s kinda nice to get that full break. It’s tough but that’s why I like looking at a beach because it’s the easiest way to get away from it. I find when you come back to it physically your body feels better and a little more rested, but mentally you haven’t been thinking about hockey for four or five days. Which doesn’t seem like that much time but when you’re thinking about it 24-7 for four or five months leading up to it it’s certainly nice to get that break and take a step back and enjoy life for a bit.”
Domi noted the coming weeks are the toughest on the hockey schedule for players. The playoff push goes into full swing, and the trade deadline is less than one month away. The hockey itself gets harder; guys have more to prove. Whether it’s increasing their value for the chance to get moved to a better postseason opportunity or trying to work their team into better playoff position, the grind is real for guys following the All-Star Break.
Being physically ready for that tough stretch of hockey is important. So, too, is getting an appropriate mental break from the wear and tear of a long season that’s about to get equally exhausting.
As trade rumors swirl even more, especially around the Blackhawks and valuable players like Domi, the buzz off the ice can be as hard to deal with as the on-ice elements. Domi doesn’t care. Frankly, the rumor mill doesn’t mean a damn thing to him because he doesn’t pay attention to it.
“It’s not too hard to fully unplug,” Domi said. “I don’t really read anything; I never really have. It’s toxic in my mind, whether it’s good or bad. You need to stay focused on what you’ve got going on. In season it’s easy because you’re so busy you don’t have time for that stuff. But when you have a little bit of a break, I’m not thinking about hockey – and that includes trades. I was just trying to heal as much as I can. I feel great and I’m looking forward to a good stretch here.”
There will likely be a nice market for Domi, and the Blackhawks might move him before the March 3rd deadline passes. If he does go, there’s a strong portion of the Blackhawks’ fan base (and media) that would love to see him re-sign here next year because he’s been great on and off the ice. He’s engaging and works hard — the kind of veteran you like having around young players as they crack into the league.
The good news is he’s ready for the stretch run. The beach did Domi some good last week. And that bodes well for the Blackhawks on and off the ice in the coming days.