It only took nine years, eight months and 15 days, although Chris DiDomenico achieved every hockey player’s dream of playing in the NHL. Drafted by Toronto late in the 2007 draft, DiDomenico’s long and unconventional path to the NHL finally became a reality when he played his first game for the Ottawa Senators on March 9th, 2017. Now a month and a half into the regular season, it appears that the 28-year-old forward is here to stay.
His three goals and six points in twelve games is impressive for someone who’s only played fifteen career games. Although his 30% shooting percentage is likely to regress soon, he’s making the most of his opportunity after being recalled from Belleville on October 21st.
As big a moment as this is, DiDomenico’s been playing his success very low-key. Here are some quotes from this season:
Before playing his first game of the 2017-18 season:
“It’s been a long time coming. I’ve got to make the best of it here. I got called up again, and I gotta show what I can do.”
(On playing in Belleville)
“I just went down there, worked hard, and the bounces were going my way. Got a lot of ice time and proved that I can play down there.”
After scoring his first NHL goal:
"I want to show that it wasn't a fluke of a game for me and I have to continue to prove that I can play in this league."
If one thing’s evident about DiDomenico, it’s that he’s a hard worker and has done everything he can to prove himself as an NHLer. He finally looks to have reached that point, although it didn’t come without some major setbacks.
Once a top prospect for the Leafs organization, DiDomenico was dominating the QMJHL for the Saint John Sea Dogs. His 34 points in 26 games earned him a spot on Canada’s World Junior Roster, where he once again rose to the top with seven points in six games en route to a gold medal, including the primary assist on the tournament winning goal.
He was presented with the gold medal on January 5th, 2009. A day later on January 6th, he was traded.
The Sea Dogs sent DiDomenico to the Drummondville Voltigeurs, where under the tutelage of Guy Boucher he earned an entry-level contract from the Leafs. The stacked Voltigeurs went on to win the QMJHL championship that year, featuring the talents of current Senator Mike Hoffman as well as other NHLers Dmitry Kulikov, Sean Couturier and Gabriel Dumont.
It was during Drummondville’s run to glory, however, where DiDomenico’s career took a turn for the worse. With his prospect stock at its height, in game three of the QMJHL finals, a dash to prevent an icing call resulted in a hard collision in the boards. DiDomenico broke his left leg on the play, ending his season.
What was expected to be a 3-4 month injury ended up enduring for much longer, by which time DiDomenico had been traded to the Chicago Blackhawks as a throw-in as part of a larger package. He didn’t return to action again until February 17th 2010, over nine months after the injury occurred. In typical DiDomenico fashion, however, he managed to score a goal and two assists in his return, being named the first star of the game.
With a shortened twelve-game season behind him, it was time for DiDomenico to turn pro. The transition didn’t go as smoothly as planned, scoring four points in his first AHL season while spending the majority of the time in the ECHL. The following season saw improvement, although by then DiDomenico had enough. The Blackhawks didn’t extend him a qualifying offer on his expiring contract, so he chose to head overseas —to Italy.
Playing in Asiago, a small town of roughly six thousand people sitting along the Alps, DiDomenico quickly rose to stardom - or as much of a star as you can be playing hockey in an obscure international league. He only spent two seasons in Asiago, although he led them to a championship in 2013 while having one of the highest scoring seasons in franchise history (72 points in 31 games). Both seasons he finished top three in league points per game.
Moving on from Italy, DiDomenico continued his journey through obscurity, joining the SCL Tigers in the second tier Swiss League. He once again dominated, leading his team in scoring by nearly 20 points. Playing in Langnau, a town of nearly 9,000 people, the Tigers had been demoted two seasons ago after spending fifteen seasons in the top tier. DiDomenico led them to the second tier championship, bringing them back to the NLA where he stayed to play for another two seasons.
This is where DiDomenico made his connections with Guy Boucher and Marc Crawford, who although never coached him in Switzerland, knew enough to target him for a contract. He connected with Boucher while playing for Team Canada at the 2015 and 2016 Spengler Cups, where he picked up nine points in nine games over the tournament.
It was on February 27th 2017, midway through yet another successful NLA season, where the Senators inked DiDomenico to a two-year contract. It was a signing that came out of nowhere as the Sens geared up for the playoffs, and it seems to be firmly paying off. DiDomenico’s proven to be capable of playing in Ottawa’s bottom six, and this is all in a lead-up that spanned ten years.