Bleeding stops for Tie

Tie Domi at Leaf practice. (SUN/Fred Thornhill)

Tie Domi at Leaf practice. (SUN/Fred Thornhill)

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

And so, this is how it ends, after 10 years of bleeding blue and white, with an afternoon phone call, a few short words from his agent and then a frozen moment of reality.

This is how it ends, with warning and regret: Nobody has ever lived the Maple Leafs life, every day, every moment, every season, the way Tie Domi has.

This has been his team and this was his time. And now that time is up. Every athlete wants another year, another game, one last opportunity, but few ever get it. Every athlete wants to walk away on their own terms, but few ever do.

"All these people who thought I had so much influence, that it was public knowledge and all that," Domi said on the day his contract was bought out by the Maple Leafs. "Well, I guess I didn't have all that influence, did I? People want me to be bitter. It seems everybody who has been around here for a long time ends up leaving (the Leafs) on a bitter note. I don't know why.

"I'm not going to let myself get bitter over this, but I definitely think this is personal. John (Ferguson) and I have had our differences since Day 1. This is just part of that. I'm getting calls from other organizations. It's flattering to hear from people. I'm getting more respect from other organizations than I got from my own."

Ferguson did call Domi's cellphone yesterday, apparently more than once, and left messages. Domi didn't return the calls. He couldn't.

"I have nothing to say to him right now," Domi said. "I don't want to talk to him."

Domi's last day as a Maple Leaf was spent on a golf course outside Pittsburgh, playing in Mario Lemieux's charity tournament. He knew all day he was being bought out by the Leafs. And as has been his custom, bull-headedly, he went ahead and finished the round.

He finished the round as his cellphone rang madly --teammates calling, former teammates, ex-coaches, general managers, friends. Suddenly his entire rolodex was calling back.

"Everybody seems more upset about it than I am," he said, not sounding all that believable. At the charity tournament, legends and semi-legends such as Dan Marino, Clark Gillies and if you can believe this one, John Congemi, all urged him to keep playing.

"Marino said you've got to keep going," Domi said. "He said if you can still play and it doesn't kill you, you have to keep playing. He said he quit because he had to."

The Leafs, once so enamoured with Domi, thought he was done. Now Domi doesn't know what to think. The other day, he said if he couldn't play in Toronto, he wouldn't play at all. By last night, he wasn't sure.

Like a whole lot of other players, he becomes a free agent this afternoon. Maybe it's too soon to consider anything -- retiring or trying to come back. Meanwhile the calls just keep on coming.

"The most touching message came from Matt Stajan," Domi said. "He said such nice things. I take a lot of pride in taking care of teammates on and off the ice and especially when kids start their careers. When a kid says you've made a difference in their career, coming from a kid like him, that means something. I had people who did that to me when I was a kid..

"I'm fortunate. Hockey gave me a great head start in life. Everything I have is because of hockey. A very close friend of mine was just diagnosed with colon cancer. You see what he's going through, this is not such a big deal."

But it has been his adult life -- Tie Domi, the celebrity hockey player, the most famous fourth-liner in history. One minute he was a photo op waiting to happen and the next minute he was privately visiting a child in the hospital. He was, from beginning to end, a contradiction: The least likely star anyone has ever seen.

In the end, after a difficult final year with a messed-up Leafs team, he was either loved or hated, accepted or misunderstood. Everyone had an opinion.

And yesterday, in a weird piece of irony, he was golfing around Pittsburgh when his demise became official. Last summer, when Lemieux's Penguins offered him a three-year contract to leave Toronto, some close to him urged him to accept the deal.

He tried to leave, but couldn't. Just like his first bout of free agency, he couldn't find a way to not be a Leaf.

He could get more money in other places, more years, maybe even better opportunities, but he couldn't be Tie Domi in other places.

And he couldn't be anything but a Maple Leaf.

Until yesterday, when a telephone call signalled the end of his time in blue and white, only the bleeding won't stop for a while.


Videos

Photos