It’s not often that a player gobsmacks the media with a brutally honest tale. New Pittsburgh Penguins netminder Louis Domingue opened the vault on Wednesday afternoon, and the resulting story of adversity and struggles left even the experienced writers a bit speechless.
Usually, a chat with a third goalie is an uneventful exchange of simple questions and platitude answers. Not so on Wednesday.
Domingue, 29, passingly referenced his effort in recent stops. PHN followed up to clarify. Did he just admit that he lacked effort or motivation? Those aren’t words you want to infer or put in a professional athlete’s mouth.
“No, no, no. I don’t want to hide behind somebody that I’m not. So if I was to tell you that I was putting in the full effort the last two years…it wasn’t the case,” Domingue began.
Not since 2017-18 and 18-19 has Domingue been able to buy green bananas. After three seasons in Arizona, where he played 77 NHL games, he was traded to Tampa Bay. He spent two seasons in Tampa Bay and split 2017-18 between Tampa Bay and their AHL club in Syracuse. However, then Domingue’s career spiraled.
Over the last two COVID rattled seasons, Domingue has worn five sweaters. He played for the Syracuse Crunch, Binghamton Devils, New Jersey Devils, and Vancouver Canucks in 2019-20. Then last season, he was a prisoner of the taxi-squad, neither playing for the Calgary Flames nor their AHL team in Stockton.
Most clubs isolated their taxi squad to limit their exposure to potential COVID outbreaks. So, the squad was a small group with limited ice time and little love, and the hockey version of purgatory crushed Domingue.
“When I look back, I left some on the table, left some on the table in Jersey, not because I wasn’t working hard, but to me, it’s all about my headspace–the way I’m approaching my work and my game and my level of motivation,” Domingue admitted. “And this summer–you don’t have to look further than this summer–I wasn’t in a good head space whatsoever. I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t believe that I could be back to where I was and, to be honest, my game on the ice, even in practice, it wasn’t showing that either…”
“So, how could you believe it?”
Backup goalies get shuffled around. Teams, fans, even teammates often expect them to be ever ready for the call. But it’s not that simple. For everyone who quarantined during the pandemic, imagine the isolation combined with changing jobs five times, moving and lugging suitcases from town to town.
It was a brutal path that got the best of Louis Domingue.
“I bounced around that year when I went from Tampa to Syracuse, to Binghamton, to Jersey to Vancouver, then in the bubble, and then I went to Calgary where I played–I didn’t play really,” said Domingue. “I practiced with three persons on the ice every morning before the team practiced.”
Isolation, inactivity, and instability.
Don’t worry–the story has a happy twist. The Pittsburgh Penguins don’t have an unhappy or unmotivated goalie. No, no, no. Quite the opposite.
“I came here thinking I was motivated, but I really wasn’t. And now it really, really switched for me, like, instantly, I feel it,” Domingue said. “And that’s something that’s hard to get, and right now I feel it. I feel motivated. I feel like I’m going somewhere. And I made the decision to invest everything into myself and into how I could leave nothing behind.”
You can probably imagine from his words that Domingue’s performance was not up to standards. He hasn’t posted a save percentage north of .900 in any of the stops since seven games with the Binghamton Devils in 2019-20, and before that, he didn’t stop more than nine of 10 shots since he backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning for 26 games in 2018-19 and posted a .908 percentage.
But after that run in Tampa Bay, he lived out of a suitcase for two seasons. Last season, he bottomed out with an .859 stop-rate in three games for the Stockton Heat in the meaningless AHL campaign.
Just because Domingue was on a roster doesn’t mean he was with a team. The taxi squad was sometimes like punishment; while the team practiced and played, the squad had to hang around, separate at the hotel, separate on the ice, primarily excluded from team activities, and no games to satisfy the itch.
“It’s been really hard not only on me and on my game, but on my mental approach to the game and my mental health. It was really hard and tough to balance family and hockey and staying motivated on top of things,” the goalie admitted. “It’s hard when you’re not involved in team activities. So last year was really hard. And this long summer, I didn’t really have any bites, whether in Europe or here. And I don’t blame them. My game wasn’t showing anything…”
The human element.
Perhaps you can relate. Perhaps one player lifting the veil on the struggles, the adversity, and the mental challenge when what you love is being taken away makes a few more players seem like human beings.
COVID and the tumult have been a nasty challenge for many. Add employment uncertainty, and motivation can evaporate.
Domingue made it through. Big stick tap to Andy Chiodo, who was promoted to Pittsburgh Penguins goalie coach from an organizational position this summer.
“I had a good conversation with (new Penguins goalie coach) Andy Chiodo. And I’ve never been in a better space since,” Domingue beamed. “I’ve worked some things in my game right away that really made sense to me. And it kind of changed my whole mindset, the way I was seeing things, and I am in a good headspace right now.”
The Penguins lacked a trusted third goalie last May when backup Casey DeSmith was injured and starter Tristan Jarry melted against the New York Islanders. And the Penguins have a goalie feeling like a weight has been lifted.
Beyond feeling rejuvenated and eager to play again, the story’s beginning already feels like a happy ending.
“We think he’s got a lot of upside. He’s got NHL experience first and foremost, and we felt like we needed more depth at that position,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “And in the event that we do get hit with (injuries) at that position, the depth is critically important. And so we think he’s a guy that has NHL upside, that that’s a guy that depending on what happens moving forward, that we could put in the lineup in Pittsburgh.”
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie, Louis Domingue: