The Lightning Power Play Podcast is a weekly show hosted by Matt Sammon (@SammonSez), Director of Radio Programming for the Tampa Bay Lightning. New episodes of the podcast are released every Thursday on the Lightning Radio Network (@TBLPowerPlay & SoundCloud). I have transcribed this for accessibility.
Quick Note: For the sake of clarity and fluency, I have omitted extraneous uses of the phrases, “and,” “but,” “you know,” and “um.”
Background information: The Syracuse Crunch are the Lightning’s official AHL [American Hockey League] affiliate and the Adirondack Thunder are the Lightning’s unofficial ECHL affiliate.
Matt Sammon: When you’re a backup goalie, you never know when your time to shine is going to come. When you’re on the bubble between the NHL and AHL, those few chances you get to impress in the NHL have to be game-changing. In just one start for Tampa Bay, Louis Domingue may just have made that much-needed impression.
On this week’s edition of the Power Play Podcast, we get to know a little more about Louis Domingue who the Lightning acquired in a trade with Arizona in November. While Domingue’s prime concern now is filling in for the injured Peter Budaj, the long-term effects of this look at the NHL level loom large.
Just weeks ago, he thought his NHL dreams were toast. Being brought in to one of the top organizations in the league has given him hope to extend his career. A look at Louis Domingue.
Not According to Plan
What’s the old saying? The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. It’s rather appropriate for this podcast. Not only for the actual podcast, but the subject of our podcast.
After having Louis Domingue as a guest on The Last Call [post-game show] following the Lightning’s 5-4 win over the Hurricanes at Amalie Arena, it became apparent to me after just ten minutes of conversation with Domingue, I probably could have talked to him for an hour or more. I was looking forward to picking up the conversation at the next day’s practice. Naturally, practice was cancelled.
Again, this theme runs well with Domingue’s story. The de facto starter in Arizona on opening night this season, the rebuilding Coyotes cut ties with Domingue after a disastrous month of October. Waiving him with the purpose of practically ex-communicating him.
Less than a month after starting the season in the NHL, Domingue seriously wondered if he’d ever play in the NHL again. Yes, the best laid plans - it comes into effect here.
While telling the story requires a lot of soundbites from our Last Call interview, Domingue is perhaps writing the first pages of his next chapter in professional hockey with just one start in Tampa Bay so far this season. Let’s not forget, the trade [to Tampa] that could turn out to have saved his career.
[Brief aside about the value of playing in the NHL with quotes from Winnipeg Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice: “I don’t think any coach, any player, trainer, referee - should ever complain about a day in the National Hockey League... We’ve got nothing to complain about. Pretty good life, every day.”]
This is where Louis Domingue is now: at 25, he’s young - but with 84 games in parts of four NHL seasons, he’s experienced. With the Coyotes going through a long, drawn-out rebuilding process and never-ending drama off the ice, it’s hard to say exactly what Domingue has done in the NHL.
He’s a player who got a chance early in his career to play in the top league, but not necessarily on one of the top teams. Given the disastrous start to the season [in Arizona], it’s easy to see why many teams wrote him off.
Strong Ties to the Lightning
Hockey, however, is a very tight-knit sport. Players and coaches often have relationships that go back to junior hockey days, or even before then - when the skaters were kids and coaches were just starting out behind the bench. Domingue is no exception.
He has a unique, if not somewhat awkward, connection to many of his Lightning teammates now. According to Lindsey Kramer of Syracuse.com, Domingue was “scouted out” by current Syracuse Crunch and Adirondack Thunder goalie Nick Riopel. In 2008, Riopel was the number one goalie in Moncton in the QMJHL [Quebec Major Junior Hockey League].
In a casual conversation with the team’s general manager, Riopel suggested the team should look into drafting the fifteen year old Domingue. What advanced scouting did Riopel have on Domingue? As the story goes, at the time Riopel was dating Domingue’s older sister. Now the two split up years ago and both have moved on to very happy lives.
Even though the story is a bit out of the ordinary, it put the [Moncton] Wildcats’ eyes on Domingue, who did indeed draft him. He was then put under the watchful eye of goalie coach Frantz Jean [who now serves as the Lightning’s goalie coach], which of course would play a big part in Domingue finding his way to Tampa Bay this season.
Now, on the ice in Moncton, the battle for the crease became an issue. Riopel was the undisputed number one goalie and was one of the best in the league. Meanwhile an antsy Domingue was trying to work his way in. Unable to do so, he demanded a trade - which brings up another old saying: be careful what you wish for.
Playing for Patrick Roy
Moncton found a trading partner, the Quebec Remparts coached by legendary goaltender Patrick Roy. What seemed like an exciting opportunity at first for Domingue, quickly turned into a nightmare.
Domingue: Honestly, I regret asking for a trade at that time. I talked about it with friends. Moncton is to this day, from what I experienced and what I heard, is the best organization in junior hockey. I was in good hands. Of course, I was with friends and they had a winning team. Being a young guy at 17, I wanted to play a lot.
Brian Engblom: There’s only one net.
Domingue: Yeah, and Riopel who’s now in Syracuse ‘cause I’m here, but he’s in Adirondack, was the best goalie in all of junior hockey. He came back and I knew I wasn’t going to play anymore. I asked for a trade and got traded to Quebec.
Now I’m traded to Quebec and my coach is Patrick Roy. I’m like, “This is going to be perfect! He’s going to teach me everything.” That’s not what happened
[Engblom makes crashing/explosion sound]
Domingue: Yeah. [audience laughs]
Engblom: Patrick is a fiery guy and that’s putting it very mildly. I guess maybe in his defense, because he’s the head coach and...
Domingue: Oh, he wears every hat over there.
Engblom: He’s part owner.
Domingue: He’s the head coach, general manager, washes the bathroom - he wants to do everything, you know what I mean? [Engblom and audience laugh] My second year, he fired the goalie coach. He said, “I’m going to be the goalie coach,” but I’m like, “You don’t have that much time on your hands.”
Engblom: That’s what I was going to say, he’s wearing so many hats, so he didn’t have a chance maybe, in his defense. At the same time I can understand you think, “Wow. Hall of famer. This guy’s going to be unreal,” and then nothing?
Domingue: Yeah, well yeah he didn’t really help me out.
Engblom: And he’s tough. Like he grinds pretty hard too.
Domingue: I’ve got no problem having a tough coach. I think it’s something that you actually need for your team to win. As long as your coach is fair - there’s a big difference. I could sit here and say a lot of things about Patrick [Roy], but I’m way past it. I’m in the NHL. Did he help me out? Maybe he did, maybe he did. I didn’t think that was the way to handle my situation, but it is what it is. We’re all better now and we don’t talk anymore. [Engblom and audience laugh]
Despite the hard-driving Roy at the helm, Domingue and the Remparts excelled. He appeared in 19 games that season, posting a 2.54 GAA and .910 SV%. With those numbers and Roy as his coach, the Coyotes took a flyer on Domingue in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL entry draft.
Domingue would play two more seasons in Quebec, piloting the Remparts to a seven-game series in the QMJHL semi-finals. After his junior days, he spent the next two seasons splitting time with the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators and the AHL’s Portland Pirates.
Early NHL Success
He lost his NHL debut in Ottawa on January 31, 2015, but won in his next game. A start, his first in the NHL, in his hometown of Montreal as the Coyotes came back for a 3-2 win.
It was the only win Domingue got in seven appearances with Arizona that season. The young Coyotes missed the playoffs by a mile. He started the following season in Springfield [with the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate].
After number one netminder Mike Smith suffered an injury early in the following season, Domingue got his chance to shine filling in. He would win seven of his next eleven appearances. The Coyotes got tantalizingly close to the playoffs. With a stack Central Division that season, despite finishing fourth in the Pacific [Division], the Coyotes missed the playoffs by nine points.
The following season, Domingue started in Arizona but the bottom dropped out for the Coyotes as it was clear they were setting up for a massive rebuild. The constant losing throughout the 2016-17 season took a toll on the young goalie.
Domingue: Obviously it’s not that you accept losing in Arizona, but having a young team - they’re a little more...
Engblom: They know they’re going to go through it.
Domingue: Yeah, it’s going to be hard. Obviously since I’ve been drafted there - except that one year - it’s been a tough time. Yeah maybe if I was drafted somewhere else, I would have never played in the NHL, I don’t know. I’m very fortunate to have gotten a chance with Arizona. I’m very grateful for that.
So that takes us to this season. Mike Smith had moved on to Calgary. Longtime Head Coach Dave Tippett was replaced by Penguins Assistant Coach Rick Tocchet. The Coyotes had traded for [goaltender] Antti Raanta. With Raanta injured, Domingue was cruising along in the preseason. Once again, here come those “best laid plans.”
Stranded in the Desert
Domingue: I don’t know if it was me being naive, but I thought that trading Mike Smith would be a great chance for me to take on - maybe not a number one role, ‘cause they did get Raanta for that reason - but I kind of ignored the fact that they traded for Raanta for him to be the number one guy. I didn’t really pay attention to what people were writing about that situation. I got into camp and he got injured really fast.
I played every single exhibition [preseason] game that we had - every single one of them. I ended up getting a shutout in my last one against San Jose. At that point, they didn’t have a choice but to start me - because he [Raanta] did come back for that game. He was back and I started it.
They didn’t have a choice but to let me start the season in Anaheim. It was going super well. After I got into a little bit of a fight with Corey Perry behind the net. It kind of changed the momentum. At that point, we were leading 4-1. They came back and won 5-4.
After that, it kind of went south for us. We started losing every game. It was kind of a snowball effect. It wasn’t stopping. We didn’t know what to do. With a young team, it’s not easy - especially at this level, every team is tough to beat. Next thing you know, I’m not stopping pucks when it’s time. It’s getting tough.
They got [goaltender] Scott Wedgewood and I didn’t think anything of it. I thought it was just another move to get stronger at that position. Then I was on waivers and then I’m [sigh] - this is when the story gets interesting because I got put on waivers, didn’t get claimed, and they didn’t want to send me down to the AHL. They wanted to keep me at home while they were trying to deal me somewhere, trying to find me a spot.
For a good week and a half, I was left without ice or a gym or any support from the team. I was just home waiting for a call. They told me to rent my own ice [chuckles]. I was there - I gave call to my old friend Shane Doan. He came out with me on the ice in the afternoon with his son.
I rented the ice at midnight just to shoot pucks and skate around because I was tired of being at home.
Literally left stranded in the desert, Domingue was at a crossroads.
“Honestly, I almost quit hockey”
Domingue: If you would have called me a month and a half ago or so, I was going to Europe in my head. We were trying to work an out-clause where I could go to Europe. I called the league trying to go to the Olympics.
I was looking for answers. I didn’t - I almost quit. Honestly, I almost quit hockey.
Meanwhile, the Lightning’s AHL farm club, the Syracuse Crunch, was in a jam. The team had stumbled to a 4-6-1-2 start [four wins, six regulation losses, one overtime loss, two shootout losses].
With a goaltending tandem of AHL rookie Connor Ingram and veteran free agent signee Michael Leighton struggling to hold down the fort while a host of young players were making their professional debut in front of them. The Lightning decided to make a move early to save the Crunch’s season, trading Leighton and forward Tye McGinn to Arizona for Domingue.
Domingue: At some point I decided to go back home and try to get a little more support from the people I work with in the summer. I was practicing with a Canadian college team. They had three other goalies. We were four goalies.
Engblom: Oh man. You can’t get a break, at this point. You can’t get enough work.
Domingue: Exactly, but that’s the day I got traded.
Joining the Lightning Organization
Crunch Head Coach Benoit Groulx saw it as an opportunity for all partners involved.
Groulx: [We’ve] got to turn the page. We have a new goalie here. Like I said, a young goalie. I think he’s hungry to play. He’s got a lot to prove. It’s an opportunity for him and it’s also an opportunity for our young guys in the lineup.
When you look at our team, we were always sitting a young guy every game. It’s tough because they were doing quite well, so now it’s an opportunity for them to see more ice time. We’ll see how it plays out, but I think it’s a good opportunity for the three players who were involved in that trade.
It was not only a lifeline for Domingue, just figuring out who he was traded to was enough to get excited about.
Domingue: I’m not going to lie, when I saw the - you just have to look at the standings. You don’t have to look at it that way [indicates the bottom of the standings; audience and interviewers laugh]
Engblom: Turn it over - oh there they are!
Domingue: Flip it over. It’s just great. I mean, you see the difference right away. It’s an organization that they don’t accept losing.
From there, Domingue took the reigns. While it took a couple of games to find his game, it’s not coincidental that as he started to succeed so did the Crunch. After two losses, the Crunch went on a ten game win streak - the longest since a ten game streak in December 2014, and the second longest in franchise history.
Back in the NHL
Domingue found his confidence and the Crunch have since found the playoff chase once again. On December 29, 2017 while he was watching the Lightning host the Philadelphia Flyers, Domingue found his phone blowing up with text messages.
Domingue: That night I was watching the game and at some point in the third [period] I started FaceTiming one of my buddies that was in South Florida. He realized Budaj wasn’t in net anymore. Then I went looking and of course I saw my phone.
Engblom: Ding, ding, ding
Domingue: [chuckles] I had a few messages. You never know if it’s going to be you, but obviously I was playing a lot of games [in Syracuse]. I’ve got NHL experience, so they gave me a call. It’s great to be back.
With a back-to-back closing out a five game road trip in Detroit, the Lightning needed a bounce back win after an ugly loss in Ottawa - and Domingue needed a bounce back performance to show everybody he was still good enough to play at this level.
Domingue: I still think I can play in this league consistently. It’s a matter of me showing it every night. If I can do that, I’ll be back in no time.
While Domingue needed to make a statement, more importantly he knows his role with the organization now. That can set up opportunities later.
Domingue: Obviously Vasy [Andrei Vasilevskiy] is the number one guy and he’s doing a tremendous job at it. I’ve been in a backup role for a long time. It’s just a matter of - and we’re not going into easy games.
Backups are in back-to-back nights. They’re on the road, against good teams. You don’t play - you play every three weeks or something. It’s hard to get a rhythm. You’ve got to be ready every day to challenge guys in practice. When your name is called to play the game, you’ve got to be ready.
Engblom: Just like you did in Detroit.
Domingue: Well you’ve go to give a breather to Vasy. When I first started in the NHL, I played about twenty games in a row. It was crazy, something crazy. It’ll drain you mentally. It’s super hard. He’s doing a tremendous job keeping his body in shape and keeping his mind at ease when he can, because he’s got to be super focused and then you go home and try to rest a bit.
Every day he comes in, he puts in the work. I’ve just got to follow him. If I can be better, then it’s just better for everybody. He’s been doing a great job and my role is to support him.
And support Vasy, Domingue will. No matter how long this ride with the Lightning goes, Domingue will savor and take advantage of every moment. To some people, he may just be the backup, but he’s also a great guy and certainly a great conversationalist.
Very easy to root for, no matter where he plays and for how long - especially since just a couple of months ago, it looked like it was all over for the 25 year old.