Sunday, 18 February 2018

Whatever Happened To... Domenic Pittis

Many hockey players put a lot of miles in during their career. But few manage to do it in the same day.

Former Lethbridge Hurricanes star Domenic Pittis belongs to a very exclusive club of hockey players who have played two full hockey games in one day. The story goes that in 1999, Pittis was called up to the Buffalo Sabres for an afternoon game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. So he drove from Rochester to Buffalo, which is about 120 kilometres and got the job done. After the final buzzer, he realized he had time to go back for that night's Americans game against Cincinnati, so he played in that too.

It turned out to be a little foreshadowing for how the rest of his playing career would go. In North America, he also played in Edmonton, Nashville and Milwaukee before coming back to Buffalo and Rochester. During the 2004-2005 lockout, he went overseas, thinking it would only be for a year, but Switzerland turned out to be the perfect fit.

"Having to adjust, just the way the things you've done for the last 15-20 years playing and then now it's just totally different and it's just normal for them and having to adjust to that, that to me was biggest adjustment," Pittis told Canes This Week. "Just trying to change the way or adjust the way that you've played."

Not only was it a challenge on the ice, but it was also a challenge off the ice. It gave him a new perspective on hockey, particularly for import players like we see in the WHL.

"Whether it's paying bills or whether it's cooking for yourself or different things to do in your downtime, that can be a challenge," Pittis said. "Those tend to be the things that have the biggest impact."

That experience carried over to his new coaching career.

"You're not able to speak the language that the majority of the guys are speaking and the coach can't speak English, he can speak German and Russian," Pittis recalled. "Having to deal with that whole dynamic gave me a different perspective."

"Eventually I was able to get back to North America and get into coaching, I had a different view of the challenges some of these European guys had."

And while there were some challenges, there were also some unforeseen benefits to moving to Europe. Pittis represented Canada in several tournaments, including the Spengler Cup and Deutschland Cup.

"To be able to play in those types of tournaments and to be able to see the type of talent that was over there really gave you a true appreciation of the guys that really don't come over to North America to play," Pittis said. "Every country has a little bit of a different style of play."

"For me it was just unique to see the different styles and the different personalities guys had when they were amongst their countrymen," he continued. "It was definitely a great experience and really helped me better understand different ways of doing things and different ways of approaching the game."

After his playing days were over, Pittis' coach in Zurich, Bob Hartley, brought him back to North America to be a part of his hometown Calgary Flames staff in 2013, eventually moving to an assistant coaching spot with the Stockton Heat, where he is today and excited about what he's doing and spending a little less time on the road.

"Really kind of getting into that day-to-day business of coaching and helping guys," Pittis said. "Being involved with a team instead of jumping around, whether it's a week here with a minor league team and then another week with the big club. That seemed like the best fit for me."

When looking back on his junior career, the 5'10", 185-pound forward looks back fondly on his time with the Hurricanes. He said it helped him grow, not only as a hockey player but as a person. In three seasons (1991-1994) in the Windy City, accumulating 269 points in 203 games.

"We had some great teams, I think we under-achieved our last year but I definitely think there were so many lessons learned amongst our time and I wouldn't change it for anything," Pittis beamed. "It was a great place to play junior and a few years to look back on fondly."

Last season, he was selected as the 10th best player in Hurricanes' history. But he credits everyone around him, including teammates, the organization and the fans.

"There's so many good players that you played with and to be singled out is really a testament to how good the people were around me."

Family was also important for the Calgary native.

"My dad put so many kilometres coming to see me," Pittis said. "I don't think he missed a home game my whole entire junior career and so he was back-and-forth."

It seems travel has never really been a bad thing in the eyes of a Pittis.

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