Impact – ”Having a strong effect on someone or something.”
The Winnipeg Jets have a history like no other. They were dominant in the WHA, struggled to make the jump to the NHL and as soon as they began to pick up steam – POOF! they were gone. As fans, we are only privy to certain aspects of team chemistry. We may occasionally hear rumours about players’ behaviours in locker rooms, hotels, team busses and on the bench, but, for the most part, fans are silent observers. 2020 has forced us all into a state of reflection, remembering how things were and how they got to where they are now. That’s why it felt important to look at which players impacted the Jets franchise, for the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Ugly – Tie Domi
The term ‘ugly’ carries a different connotation in the hockey world than in everyday life because, sometimes in hockey, you have to win ‘ugly’. Winning the ‘ugly’ games in the NHL means hitting, fighting, crashing the net and never backing down and, when the Winnipeg Jets acquired Tie Domi on December 28, 1992, they got a whole lot uglier. Coming into a team that was way off from the playoffs, Tie Domi helped lead the Jets to a 12-game winning streak. With his hard-nosed play and willingness to defend his teammates regardless of the physical harm he may have had to endure, Tie Domi was instantly adored by Jets fans. He was what the Jets needed and what the fans wanted. Domi’s stint in Winnipeg may have only been three seasons, but his ugly impact was felt while he was there and missed when he left.
From 1992-1995, Tie Domi became one of the most polarizing players in Jets history. The fans adored his work ethic, leadership and that he was both a goon and could really play. This was amplified when he linked up with Teemu Selänne to form the ‘Tie and Teemu’ duo during Selänne’s record-setting 76-goal rookie campaign: Domi flicked the puck up ice for Selänne to pass Mike Bossy’s record. That’s when things took a turn for the worse in the dressing room. Domi has openly discussed rumours that certain star-players in Winnipeg were jealous of the attention ‘Tie and Teemu’ were getting; they felt that, as a role player, Domi should not be on the front page of the program to start the season off or be the face printed on merchandise. But, as Domi said, “we didn’t try to make it the Teemu and Tie show, it’s just the fans liked us both so much. What are we supposed to do?” Domi revealed that the most confrontations he ever had with teammates throughout his career was in Winnipeg. This shows that the ugly impact is a double-edged sword because, where it can help the team on-the-ice, it can hurt them in the dressing room.
It was nearly impossible for Tie Domi not to become a fan favorite in a place like Winnipeg. Winnipeggers work hard, don’t complain and don’t mind mixing it up here-and-there. So, when a 5’6 Tie Domi knocked a 6’2 Steve Smith out cold, the fans loved it. They loved it because Jets fans could see themselves in Tie Domi. The ugly impact of Domi was needed for the Jets to get out of the league’s basement, so it was not surprising that Domi brought that same energy to Toronto where, once again, he was a fan-favourite. The statline for Domi may not be overly impressive but – for a young, explosive talent like Teemu Selänne to be able to skate and play freely, knowing that he had one of the toughest enforcers in the league watching his back – is a stat that you cannot quantify. You can only see it and feel it. While the Jets lost their ugly impact when Domi left town, fans learned that you can’t win pretty until you can win ugly.