TORONTO - Tie Domi has avoided returning the barrage of phone messages, avoided commenting on Bob Probert’s damaged brain, has chosen not to consider his own mortality or even his future.
He won’t see a doctor. He won’t get his brain checked out. He doesn’t care to know what his future might look like.
“And if I get checked out, then what?” asked Domi, the former Leaf, who fought more often than Probert in his career. “What’s that going to do for me?” The late Probert was posthumously diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease, CET, a forerunner to dementia. He may have been the best hockey fighter of his era but he wasn’t the most active: Domi was.
“Listen, I’ve got three kids that I live every day for,” he said in a Toronto Sun exclusive interview. “I can’t be thinking about this. I don’t want anybody worrying for me. This (story) has made people worry about me. I don’t like that. I’m getting all kinds of calls, all kinds of reaction. I don’t want any negative thoughts around me. I’m one of those guys who doesn’t like to look in the past. I haven’t read one article about what happened (to Probert) and I don’t plan on reading one. People keep sending them to, pointing me to them, but I’m not looking at them, I’m not looking in the past. I’m looking ahead. It’s how I have to be.
“(Fighting) is my past life. It’s made me who I am and I’ll never forget that. I never discuss it with anybody, though. I never talk about fighting, ever. I’m not comfortable talking about it. Mentally, it was tough, tough on me. It was part of my job. It was what I had to do. I did whatever I had to do to make it. My dream was to be a hockey player. Everybody told me I was too small or not good enough. So I did whatever I had to do to make it. And I don’t apologize for that.
“Both of us (Probert) did it for so long, but once you’re done you’re done. There’s no point going back and talking about it.”
There is no way of quantifying all the numbers, but the estimates are that Domi fought more than 400 times in his hockey career, as a junior, a pro, during training camp and the exhibitions seasons. It was his calling card, and Probert for many years was his most notable rival. Probert was the heavyweight champion of the NHL and Domi was either the No. 1 contender or the cruiserweight champion himself. They were an attraction at a time when fighting was not so frowned upon.
But these are troubling times for hockey players, past and present. There is more information about the dangers of head trauma than ever before. The issues of hockey now meld uncomfortably together, with questions being asked about what to do about concussions, head shots, fighting, goons. Once, each of those problems may have been separate. Now it’s hard to debate one without the other and from his perch, Domi has little interest in furthering what he said on television the year after he retired.
He then said he worried that it wouldn’t be long before someone would be killed in a hockey fight. He hasn’t necessarily softened on that position, only he’d rather not elaborate on the subject.
“I knew when I said that it was going to come up again and it would haunt me forever,” said the 41-year-old Domi, five years removed from being a Maple Leaf. “I said it wouldn’t definitely be a sad day (if something happened). But I’m not looking to get involved or talk about any of this stuff. I have a son playing (minor midget AAA). He had a concussion this year after he got jumped in a game. I’m sensitive to that.
“But I don’t think most people understand what it’s like (to be a fighter). When you did what we did, you don’t miss having the anxiety and pressure that goes with it. You did it because you had to do it, and you don’t want to talk about anymore when it’s over.
“When I played I didn’t talk about it. I can remember Keith Tkachuk as a youngster in Winnipeg saying to me: ‘They’ve got so and so on their team.’ And I just looked at him and said: ‘I don’t like talking about it.’ He didn’t understand.”
For most of their careers, Domi and Probert fought each other, but didn’t really know each other. It wasn’t until the television show, Battle of the Blades, where they were brought together as unlikely figure skaters, that they actually became friends. When Probert died last July, Domi was heartbroken.
“He was all about his wife and kids,” Domi said. “When he died, everybody talked about all the troubles he had and I didn’t like that. I got to know him as a person. He was a like a great big teddy bear, happy with his life. We all went to the U2 concert together, the whole cast of the show. And the whole time, Bob had his cell phone on, holding it up to the speakers so his wife and kids could listen to the concert, smiling the whole time. Wanting to share it with them. That’s the Bob Probert I got to know.”
The rest, he doesn’t really want to know about.