From the outside it looked as if Maria Dominico had found her perfect place to play hockey. Born and raised in North Bay, Ont., Dominico moved 300
kilometres south to Whitby, Ont., in the fall of 2014 to join the Durham West Lightning, an Ajax-based Intermediate AA team in the Provincial Women’s
Dominico loved her billet family, enjoyed playing with her team and saw her game grow to the point where she was named to the Ontario Red roster for the
2015 National Women’s Under-18 Championship.
But something just didn’t feel right.
It wasn’t home.
“I had to take a step back from things and realize that living away from North Bay and my family wasn’t in my best interests. It didn’t put me in a good
state of mind,” she says. “I came home because I realized I’m such a home body.”
While Dominico enjoyed success on the ice, there had been some struggles off of it. The PWHL season ends in April, and Dominico would return to North Bay
to finish out the school year. Having to orient herself to a new curriculum proved difficult.
“That was another reason I moved home,” she says. “I knew I would be able to go to school and work to my full potential.”
The returning home part was easy. What wasn’t so certain was where she would play her hockey.
Dominico reached out to Ray Irwin, head coach of the North Bay Ice Boltz Midget AA team. Irwin had previously been her coach for one season of Peewee.
“A coaching staff can’t help but get excited when somebody with her talent comes to your team,” he says. “She brings an element of not only tremendous
experience, but skill as well. It makes the kids on our team that much better.” Battling Dominico makes everyone else work harder. “If they can handle
Maria in practice, they can handle any player in the league. It was a big surprise when she decided to come back home, but there isn’t a coach in the world
who wouldn’t have made room for her.”
It’s a decision that on the surface seemed to be a step back in the level of hockey she was playing. Dominico acknowledges this – “I understand [the PWHL
is] above Midget” – Irwin, too – “I made it very clear from a hockey standpoint I didn’t think it was the right decision from her” – but in reality it
wasn’t. Yes, the level of competition is higher in the PWHL (an under-19 league). But growth as a hockey player is about more than skill. Dominico already
had that in spades. It’s about the intangibles, and about setting herself up for a future beyond what happens at the rink.
Irwin understood this when he offered Dominico a spot on his team.
“I recognized that she had the maturity to make that decision,” he says. “She knew there were some pluses and minuses to coming back to playing Midget AA,
but the school side of the equation came first.”
Returning to her roots also opened up a new side of Dominico. With Durham West she was among the youngest players. With North Bay, she’s one of the oldest.
Irwin made it clear that he expected her to step up and be a leader this season.
“I’ve never really had the opportunity to take the role and step up,” says Dominico. “It’s made me come out of my shell more and talk to more girls. If I
was a younger girl I could step back and still be shy. “
She rode shotgun to the quintessential leader a year ago. Dominico speaks in glowing terms of her Ontario Red teammate Lindsay Agnew, the captain of last
year’s gold medal-winning team, as well as of Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team for 2015-16. When Dominico scored her only goal of the tournament –
the game-winner in the semifinal win over British Columbia – she skated right to Agnew to start the celebration.
Now it’s her turn to lead. She’s one of only four returning players for the defending champions. Having come out of her shell, Dominico welcomes another
chance to step farther outside her comfort zone and be a steadying influence.
It’s a role that Dominico will continue afterward. She’s been active with the North Bay and District Girls Hockey Association since coming home, serving as
an instructor at skills camp and helping mentor the younger Ice Boltz players.
Dominico has done this alongside her younger sister, Malory. Two years apart in age, this season marks the first time the two have been able to play
“It definitely makes it a bit more special; that added to me [wanting to] play at home,” she says. “We can work off each other and take things from each
Two months into the new season Dominico is unquestionably happy about her decision to return home. Studies are less stressful, and days before the start of
the U18 nationals she signed with Nipissing University.
One step back in time has taken her two steps forward into a new future.