Closure for Tie

Former Toronto Maple Leaf enforcer Tie Domi manages a smile while announcing his retirement from...

Former Toronto Maple Leaf enforcer Tie Domi manages a smile while announcing his retirement from the NHL at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2006. (Toronto Sun/Craig Robertson)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

Tie Domi could rhyme off 1,000 names of people he either has shaken hands with or punched in his decade as a Maple Leaf.

But he never touched the one named Stanley that would have made his National Hockey League exit yesterday the storybook finish of a Ray Bourque or Dave Andreychuk.

The 35-year-old Domi, in an exclusive club as a 1,000-game enforcer, retired to the TSN studios yesterday, another long-time Leaf unable to break a near 40-year Cup curse.

"For the past 10 years, the one statistic (that hurts) is that we played the most playoff games in the league and never won the big dance," Domi said amid his tears and laughter at an Air Canada Centre news conference. "Playoffs is when I really wanted to shine, to be one of those guys who made a difference. As bad as last year was, if we'd have made the playoffs, we would've made a huge difference with the league so close. I could've made a difference in a year that was tough on me personally."

But Domi was bought out halfway through his two-year deal. Despite a lobby effort from good friend and team captain Mats Sundin, Domi admitted that a recent workout to gauge his fitness for a possible deal elsewhere made him wonder if the announcement yesterday was inevitable.

Domi takes a 16-year NHL treasure trove of memories out the door; draft day when Harold Ballard compared him to Tiger Williams, his heavyweight title bouts with Bob Probert as a New York Ranger, and a trade back to his beloved Leafs where he was on two teams that went to the conference finals.

Domi protected teammates on many long nights on the road and tried to fill a leadership role that Mark Messier had instilled in him as a Ranger. But he conceded he was his own worst enemy at times, such as his needless hit on New Jersey's Scott Niedermayer with the Devils on the ropes in the 2001 playoffs.

"It had been the game of my life," Domi said, shaking his head. "Two days before that (Niedermayer) put his Easton in my face (cutting Domi open) and kind of laughed at me. I got stitches and told him, don't worry, I'll get you back.

"I'm getting ready to be first star on Hockey Night in Canada and be on with Ron and Don, but that (hit) was probably the stupidest thing I've ever done and the biggest regret. The Ulf Samuelsson thing (sucker punching his way to an eight-game suspension)? I don't regret it as much. He had ended a lot of careers.

"There were times you think back at the chances we had. Martin Brodeur played well against us for New Jersey a few times, there was the chance we had when Dominik Hasek beat us for Buffalo (in 1999) and the one that really hurt was Carolina (in 2002). We found a way to lose, unfortunately.

"But I'll cherish that my dad got to see me play in the NHL before he died. I'd like to thank teammates, trainers, management, coaches, owners and those who have taken me into their hearts and their homes, the fans. There's no greater honour for a hockey player."

Domi left the door open for a future role with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., making future plans to sit down with president and CEO Richard Peddie. For now, he's on a TSN panel show where his liberal use of four-letter words yesterday must be giving the technical folk nightmares already.

Domi insisted he harboured no bitterness toward the Leafs for his early departure, not wishing to distance himself as ex-captain Dave Keon has and urging Keon to "get off his high horse" and return to have his sweater honoured.

"I had to have closure and I had to have closure as a Toronto Maple Leaf," Domi said. "You're bitter for a couple of days, but life goes on."


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