WELCOME TO TIE DOMI’S “PROS VS JOES” HOCKEY FIGHT NIGHT IN PHILLY!

Howie Mooney
FiredUp Network Sports Writer

@HowieMooney

Monday, April 5, 2021


WELCOME TO TIE DOMI’S “PROS VS JOES” HOCKEY FIGHT NIGHT IN PHILLY!

An ignominious anniversary of sorts passed recently.  It was not the anniversary of some profound accomplishment, a significant victory or an amazing milestone.  It was, nonetheless, something that no one can ever forget.  It was a wild night and twenty years later, people are still talking about it. 

On March 29, 2001, hockey fans witnessed an incident that was so out of the ordinary that it rarely ever happens.  And yet it did occur on that night as the Toronto Maple Leafs were in Philadelphia at what was then called the First Union Center to play the Flyers. 

Before we begin to examine the actual incident, we must look at one of the participants.  I say this because, once we can see the entire background of the player, we must try to determine how much alcohol would be necessary in order to fortify oneself enough in order to go at this man, in an enclosed space, with any kind of anger.  I speak facetiously, of course, but one’s thought processes would have to be somewhat impaired in order to do what was done that night in Philadelphia.

The first time I remember seeing Tie Domi play live was in the later 1980s when he played for the Dick Todd-coached Peterborough Petes.  In the 1987-88 season, Domi amassed 292 penalty minutes with the Petes while also scoring 22 goals and assisting on 21 others in 60 games.  That combination of numbers would make a lot of National Hockey League scouts drool.  Domi was drafted the following summer by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The next year, 1988-89, he played in 43 games with the Petes.  He scored 14 goals and added 16 assists with 175 penalty minutes.  The year after that, he got pretty regular time with the Leafs’ American League affiliate in Newmarket.  In 57 games with the Saints he had 14 goals and 11 helpers.  He also was eager to prove his toughness while tallying 285 minutes in penalties.  He got a call-up to the big club, playing in two games with Toronto.  In those two games, he logged 42 minutes in the box!

That summer of 1990, a couple of weeks after the draft, the Leafs traded Domi to the New York Rangers.  He was one tough kid and he wanted to show that he belonged in the club with some of the other pugilists that already patrolled the ice for their respective teams.  Looking at a list of the penalty minute leaders of the 1990-91 season, you see a “who’s-who” of some of the top fighters of the time.

Bob Probert, Rob Ray, Mike Peluso, Gino Odjick, Craig Berube, Joey Kocur, Garth Butcher, Shane Churla, Ken Baumgartner, Chris Nilan, Troy Malette, Darin Kimble, Ron Stern, Dave Brown, Troy Crowder.  This was the crew that Domi wanted to hang with, fight with, garner the respect of......you name it.

It took a while for Domi to get the respect of the fight aficionados among NHL fandom.  Steven Rehm is an author who has a website called ‘When Probert Was King’.  He has written extensively about some of the great fighters he has seen and proclaims Bob Probert the best of all time.  It’s difficult to disagree with him on that.  But he writes about the young Domi as he was about to take on the Red Wings’ Probert.

Tie Domi was a real runt of a fighter standing barely 5’10” with squat features, squat arms, squat legs and a bowling ball for a head that looked extremely unappealing to punch.  Domi kept his hair buzzed close to get that full hand breaking effect.  Domi had won a few fights but was mostly known for his post fight antics.  He would taunt his opponents, talk trash and he’d do a speed bag routine with his hands, twirl his finger in the air and the whole time he’d have an ear to ear grin on his face.  Domi was up and coming but when he and Probert linked up nobody viewed him as a threat.  All that was about to change.

He chronicled their fight of February 9, 1992. 

“The Albanian Aggressor was looking to make a real go of it as he went right at Probert with a barrage of lefts and rights.  Probert tried to use his great reach advantage but found himself being outpunched by the scrappy Domi and at one point was forced to throw his right arm up to block and deflect Domi’s lefts.  When Probert finally got into the fight it was a tale of too little too late.  After trying to use his reach, he tried to shrug off his jersey but the whole process took too long and by the time he was free, he was cut over the right eye and losing on the judges’ scorecards.  Probert skated to the box bloodied and disheveled.  Domi skated away with a huge grin on his face while mimicking a heavyweight championship belt gesture, declaring himself the new heavyweight champ.”

When Domi made the belt gesture, Probert steamed.  He hated that he had been bested by a player that he viewed as a showboat.  He wanted to avenge that loss, but would have to wait until the following season to try to do that.  When they met up again in December of 1992, Probert was all business and went straight at him with a barrage of rights, then switching to lefts and back again to rights.  A final shot to Domi’s temple felled the upstart fighter.  On the Red Wings’ bench, Wings’ captain Steve Yzerman was making the championship belt gesture to mimic Domi’s antics from almost a year before.

Domi may have lost that fight but it didn’t make him any less reticent to fight the league’s toughest men.  And he won more fights than he lost.  Year after year in the 1990s, he was among the top penalty minute men.  One NHL tough guy equated striking Domi in the head to “punching a bowling ball”.  Recently, I asked noted NHL historian Liam Maguire what it was about Domi that made him so difficult to fight against.

“(It was a) bunch of things, Howie.  He was built like a brick ‘you know what’.  He grew up tough.  He’s a lefty (with a) low centre of gravity and hard to knock off his feet.  Great balance.  He could take a shot if you did get one in.  And his style.  Grab with the right, bend over.  Hard target to hit and then he’d throw that big left hand.  He had a big fist.  He threw hard.  He took his losses, of course.  They all do, but he was a really good fighter, no question.  He was legitimately tough and an excellent fighter.”

So, now that we know all of this, let’s go back to the First Union Center in Philadelphia and that night at the end of March of 2001.

With the score tied 1-1 early in the third period, the Flyers’ Luke Richardson hammered Darcy Tucker into the boards.  Domi took exception to the Richardson hit and tried to goad the Flyers’ player into a fight.  No fight occurred – the linesmen jumped in immediately -- but the two were sent off with penalties for Unsportsmanlike Conduct.  This is when the spectacle began to unfold.

As Domi sat in the visitors’ penalty box, a couple of Flyers’ fans sitting (or standing) right behind the box were trying to taunt the Leafs’ winger over the low glass.  Domi mostly ignored them but he tamely shot some water from the bottle at the two fans.  Words and water went back and forth a couple of times until Domi squeezed the water bottle a little more forcefully and the squirt went beyond the two men immediately behind the sin-bin.

That forceful squirt prompted another fan, identified later as Chris Falcone, who was seated behind the original two taunters, to lunge at the glass that separates the penalized players from the people sitting in the seats.  He hit the glass with such force that the barrier gave way and Falcone ended up down in the penalty box with Domi.  It all happened, as things generally do in hockey games, swiftly and suddenly.  Domi, not knowing whether this person who landed in the box with him was carrying any kind of weapon, reacted as many of us who may ever be in the same position would: with suspicion, fear and aggression.

As all this was happening, the penalty box door was slightly ajar and linesman Kevin Collins, who was on the ice and keeping an eye on all this previous stuff, immediately bolted into the box and tried to get Falcone subdued.  As he was trying to do this, the fan began trying to punch Collins.  Seeing that, Domi began punching Falcone.

Harry Neale was doing colour commentary for the Leafs’ broadcast and as all this was happening, Neale was shouting to the TV viewing audience, “Watch the lawsuit, Tie!  Watch the lawsuit!”  He added soon after , toward Falcone, “I’m so happy that fan fell in!  You thought that glass was protecting you.  You bonehead!”

Falcone ended up being taken away for stitches.  He was cited by Philadelphia Police for something.  But he ended up suing Domi, the Maple Leafs, the Flyers, Comcast, the First Union Center, the National Hockey League....any party that had anything to do with the game that night.  Domi talked about the incident on the ‘Spittin’ Chiclets’ podcast and reiterated the story.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlJ8bGzF55A

Domi stated that Falcone and his lawyers were losing as their suits went to court.  But Falcone would always appeal.  Domi was being forced to continue to pay lawyers to fight on his behalf, to the tune of, as he said, “six-figures”.  Eventually, Domi asked his lawyers to give him Falcone’s phone number.  They balked.  It took time and cajoling and pleading but Domi finally got Falcone’s number.  On a night that the Leafs were in Philadelphia to play the Flyers, Domi called Falcone on his way to the rink.  He wanted to meet with the fan immediately after the game.  He arranged for security to bring Falcone to a room under the stands so the two men could get together.

Domi says that Falcone originally thought that he wanted to fight him.  Domi had to calm the fan down.  He proposed that, in exchange for dropping all the appeals and the suits against all the parties, Domi would fly Falcone and his family to Toronto, put him up in a hotel and get him tickets for a couple of playoff games in which the Leafs and Flyers would be playing in 2001.  But Domi implored Falcone, “Don’t tell the media or anything.”

That ended the legal entanglements right there.

“I got him to sign off on everything.  I got Comcast off, I got the Flyers off, I got the NHL off, I got everybody off.  He signed off on everything.  And he came to Toronto, and God bless the guy.  He’s doin’ interviews in the stands.  But it was okay.  That’s the real story of how it all happened and people still talk about it everywhere.  That’s the real story.  That’s how it ended.  I had to end it myself.  No lawyers.”

Twenty years ago doesn’t seem like it’s that long ago now, but it’s really difficult to imagine anything like this ever happening today.  The glass behind the penalty boxes is a lot higher now than it was then.  Access to players is a lot more difficult today than it was then as well.  In some ways, that may be a good thing.  But in other ways, fans now can feel a lot more detached from the players today than they ever were back then.  And in that, it’s tough not to think that something has been lost forever.

You can listen to Howie and Shawn Lavigne on the Sports Lunatics sports history show, right here on The FiredUp Network, or on 122 other platforms!