Max Domi’s first tattoo had a practical use: a medic alert symbol.
But did the future Chicago Blackhawks forward known the insignia — two snakes coiled around a staff — carried added meaning as it related to him?
The caduceus, the staff of the Greek god Hermes, bears a pair of wings at the top, a representation of his speed. And Hermes, among several things, is the god of athletes.
“Yeah, I know,” he told the Tribune with a knowing smile. “I know what art I put on my body.”
Since he was a teenager, Domi has appreciated the aesthetics of ink and the symbolism it can convey.
“To be honest with you, the main reason was I was a huge fan of ‘Sons of Anarchy.’ And Jax Teller was one of my all-time favorites,” he said.
Domi watched the TV show a lot because “in hockey, there’s so much time, whether it is on the bus, the plane, off days or whatever it might be. And Jax was pretty blasted. So I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll try it one day. And once you get one, everyone’s telling you that you’re going to be hooked. And sure enough, I got one, two, three, four pretty quick.”
In practically no time, “I had two sleeves, so it happens pretty quick.”
Domi, 27, shared the journey of his tattoos, several marking a significant moment in his life.
The sleeve on his left arm displays some of his hobbies and steppingstones in his hockey career. The right arm bears symbols of what each member of his family means to him. He had other tattoos placed on his ribs and fingers, but the reasons for those may be surprising.
His first tattoo
Domi recalled being 16 and starting his hockey career with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights.
He knew he was going to get a tattoo one day, but also knew it wouldn’t go over well with the folks at home: “My parents are pretty old school, so they were against me getting tattoos from Day One.”
So he came up with one game plan for mom Leanne — and one for dad Tie.
As a Type 1 diabetic, Domi has a medic alert bracelet to instruct paramedics in case of an emergency. But he hated wearing it, so “I always either would purposely forget my bracelet or just lose. I wasn’t a big fan of jewelry at the time, so I never really wore it and my mom would always get mad.
“I used that as an opportunity to get a tattoo. I told her, ‘Hey, Mom, I got a great idea. I’m going to get a tattoo.’ She’s like, ‘You’re not getting a tattoo.’ I’m like, ‘Mom, it’s for this (medical) reason.’ She said, ‘OK, yeah, I get it. Makes sense.’ ”
He gave her the impression it was going to be small tattoo, but when it wasn’t, “(I) blamed the tattoo artist. She wasn’t very happy but she can’t erase it, so it is what it is.”
His dad, once an enforcer in the NHL, was a different story.
A road game against the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors presented an opportunity.
“I was going to have to show him eventually Domi said. So I wore long sleeves for a while.”
In Mississauga, Domi was saying goodbye to family members. He and his dad usually exchanged byes last.
“So I was walking on the bus and I go, ‘Oh, dad, by the way, did you see my tattoo?’ He goes, ‘Ah.’ His jaw hit the floor,” Domi laughed. “I mean, he doesn’t care now. But it’s just different times.”
The caduceus still stands out among all his tattoos. It’s a bolder style compared with the others.
If Domi had to do it over again, there could be a little adjustment here or there, “but I do like all my tattoos. I wouldn’t change any of them. I don’t regret any of them. They all have a meaning to me personally.”
The right arm is about family
Domi wasn’t sure how many tattoos he has, but at least one represents each member of his immediate family.
For his younger sister, Avery Rose, he had a rose on his right forearm, and he liked it so much he had another one tattooed on his let wrist.
For his older sister, Carlin, it was a horse. “This one’s actually not officially done,” Domi said. She grew up riding horses. It was kind of at the start of my tattoo endeavors. I figured I would incorporate as many animals as I could.”
For his mother, Leanne, he picked an angel holding a cross to represent her.
“She raised us as Catholics, going to church every Sunday when we were really young,” he said. “And I figured that was pretty symbolic for who she is. She’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet.”
A good portion of Domi’s shoulder pays tribute to his father, Tie, an NHL winger for 16 years, including 12 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“(It’s) a lion that represents who he is as a person, how he played hockey and how he lives his day-to-day life,” he said. “Very similar to a lion in my mind.
“The ‘333,’ that is what is scratched into the stone there with his initials and his birthday. He had 333 career fights, which is the most all time in the NHL.”
Overlooking the family is a portrait of God, “kind of the classic version of what God would look like in my mind.”
Domi said of his family tattoos, “I wanted them to be with me all the time. Being a hockey player, you’re traveling quite a bit. Some people might call that corny or whatever.”
The collection struck a chord with at least one of Domi’s teammates.
“It right away tells you he is family-oriented and he cares a lot about his siblings and his parents and grandparents,” Hawks defenseman Connor Murphy said. “He’s a family guy and has an artistic vibe to him.”
Murphy likes the detail and symbolism of the lion and the rose.
“I have a sister too,” he said. “She always brings a little bit of a softer side, and you have a girl that you feel close to. So a rose is a cool metaphor for that.”
Murphy said he admired Domi’s dedication to his form of expression but added he’s “too nerdy to have tattoos.”
The left arm is about his hockey roots
The “Type 1 diabetic” tattoo was his first, but others on his left arm symbolize attributes of his personality or key moments in his life.
Perhaps the most symbolic are waves crashing against the Port Credit Lighthouse in the Toronto area.
“Port Credit Arena is right next to this lighthouse,” he said. “And I always would be crossing (it) from my childhood house to the rink. It just kind of brought me back to where I first learned to skate and the first arena I played at with my first-ever hockey team.”
Underneath it is a dove — “symbolizes peace.” Below the dove, on the outside left forearm, is a clock.
“This old-school clock is pretty cool because I knew I wanted one of those,” Domi said. “A friend of mine had one. And I just wasn’t sure how it would make sense to put on my body.”
So he gave form a function.
“It actually points to two numbers that are the date of my first NHL game against the L.A. Kings when I would have been 20 years old,” Domi said.
It was Oct. 9, 2015, at the Staples Center, and the Arizona Coyotes rookie had a goal and an assist in his NHL debut.
Domi described himself as a “big card player” and has 13, his “lucky” sweater number, inscribed on his upper arm.
“And then the skull’s just badass,” he said. “Threw that one in there to have some fun.”
Pain tolerance had a ‘hand’ in other tattoos
Domi got his finger inked, too, just because he couldn’t take it anymore.
“You know what, anyone that tells you tattoos don’t hurt is literally lying right to your face,” he said. As a hockey player, I’d like to think I’m pretty tough. And it hurts so bad.”
The more intricate the tattoo, the more needling required. Some of Domi’s took hours, sometimes over a few days.
“It’s literally like, honestly, a torture method,” he said. “If I had to torture someone, I just make them get a tattoo for like 20 hours straight.
“It stings a little bit. After a while, just getting hit over and over and over again, that’s when it’s just like, you drive yourself crazy and your body does start to reject it a little bit after, let’s say like nine to 10 hours ... Because by the 10th hour, your arm kind of shakes a little bit.”
Eric Marcinizyn, the third artist Domi worked with, did the majority of Domi’s tattoos — “really impressive work.”
Marcinizyn was about five hours into a session illustrating the clock on Domi’s forearm when the Hawks player said, “‘Dude, I need something to take the pain away from my forearm.’ ”
So Marcinizyn suggested a finger tattoo.
“I was like, ‘Does it hurt?’ “ Domi said. And he’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s the point. It’ll take your pain away (from the arm).’ "
Each finger tattoo represents something unique. He has crosses on both thumbs and a peace sign on a right finger to symbolize peace when he shakes someone’s hand. “I get along with everyone,” he said.
The left hand has more card symbols.
“So far we got a spade and a heart,” Domi said. “We do not have a club or a diamond yet, but we do have two fingers left for that. Love playing cards.”
He got tattoos on his ribs because he needed a break on his biceps. Again, it was about distributing the pain.
One is a quote from one of his grandmothers and the other a palm tree.
“I was looking out the window at a palm tree,” Domi said. “I was like, I want to get back to my body just because this is like torture. And I needed to remember this moment that I buckled down and got through it, so I had a palm tree on my oblique.”
What tattoos are next?
As Domi best recalls, the last ink he had done was before the COVID-19 pandemic. He doesn’t have any plans for new ones but he’s open to it. His back and chest are blank canvases.
“Maybe as I get older, who knows, maybe I have kids,” Domi said. “I’m in no rush to get tattoos but I’m sure I’ll get a bunch more done.”
Domi is content to let his tattoos tell people who he is and how hockey and his family have shaped him. They can be an icebreaker in the locker room, particularly for those who are already into ink as well as those who are curious about getting their first.
“I’m definitely not walking in with no shirt, being like, ‘Look at my tattoos. Who wants to talk to me about them?’ “ he said. “But if someone asks, yeah, it’s a conversation starter for sure.”
And if nothing else, they serve as a personal journal.
“It always creates a great story,” he said. “Even when you’re getting it — who you’re with, the artists doing it, where you’re doing it, the grind to get it — you’ve really got to earn it because it’s not fun and those long sessions suck.
“I think they build some character through it.”