Louis Domingue will likely celebrate his 26th birthday Tuesday by backing up Andrei Vasilevskiy against the Panthers.
Every birthday in the NHL is a great day, especially for Domingue, who nearly quit five months ago.
And there was one birthday that Domingue will never forget, when an elaborate prank by his father helped spark his hockey passion.
When Domingue turned 9, he had a bunch of friends over for a sleepover. His mother, Brigitte, usually made 30 cupcakes, enough for each NHL's teams logo. Domingue would pretend to be the GM, and sign each of his friends to a million dollar contract. They'd take a picture shaking hands, cupcake in tow.
On his ninth birthday, a special phone call interrupted them. Domingue’s father, Charles, passed his son the phone, telling him it was Montreal Canadiens goalie Jeff Hackett.
Hackett was Domingue's favorite player, ever since he saw him on the cover of a magazine.
"He said, 'You've got to keep going, work hard in school and on the ice,'" Domingue recalled.
The next day, a letter arrived. It carried a Canadiens logo and came with two tickets and Jeff Hackett's signature.
"Before the game I went down and knocked on the glass, and said. 'Thank you for the tickets Jeff," Domingue said.
Turns out, it wasn't Hackett.
Charles Domingue' had a friend — with an English accent — make the fake Hackett phone call. Charles created the letter, forging Hackett's signature.
"In a way it was lying to your kid, but it was a good lie, to make the passion grow," Louis Domingue said.
• • •
Louis started hockey when he was 7. He played baseball, too. But his mom said hockey "hit Louis like a virus" one day.
Louis would play everywhere — in the street, on the patio, in the basement on an improvised rink his parents made him. When his grandmother would babysit, she'd shoot foam pucks all night long from the comfort of her rocking chair.
Like Vasilevskiy, Domingue started as a forward, moving to goalie his second season when the goalie broke his finger. Equipment was expensive, so his parents searched for gear at used equipment stores. Domingue is left-handed, but most places only had gear for righties, so he used that for several years.
The net Louis used for street roller-hockey was huge, almost regulation size. The kids would never move it, even when cars came. After a while, cars — even school buses — knew they had to go around the Domingue net.
Domingue made his first NHL start against the Canadiens in Montreal on Feb. 1, 2015. He stopped 20 of 22 shots in an Arizona win. The next day, the bus driver stopped at Domingue's house and knocked on the front door.
He shook Charles Domingue's hand to congratulate him, telling him it was a good thing he never complained about the net in the street.
• • •
Louis jokes that his childhood was never normal.
Charles Domingue is a documentarian, and has made films in 86 different countries. He's done a lot of work on animals and insects, so it was common for there to be scorpions or snakes on the Domingue's dining room table. One time, they had a huge lizard as a pet.
"We had everything," Louis said.
His father said Louis didn't come on many of his trips as a kid, other than one to Cuba. Charles made the 16-hour flight from Ethiopia last month for the Lightning's annual dads trip to Toronto and Buffalo.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Charles said.
This dads trip was extra special because Domingue didn't know if he'd have another one after finding himself out of the league in late October. He had been dropped by the league's worst team, the Coyotes, and was renting his own ice at midnight to stay sharp.
For a couple weeks, Louis waited for a call that he'd been traded. He considered trying to play overseas, wondering if his NHL dream was over.
"He didn't want to quit," Charles said. "He just didn't have any options."
That's until the Lightning acquired Domingue in mid November. Tampa Bay, wanting a better third NHL goalie option, sent Syracuse goalie Mike Leighton and forward Tye McGinn to the Coyotes. The move didn't make many headlines, but paid off big-time when veteran backup Peter Budaj suffered a lower body injury Dec. 29. Budaj has been out since, just starting a conditioning assignment with Syracuse this week.
Domingue has won four of his six starts (all coming on the road), including Thursday’s thrilling overtime victory in Dallas. “He’s been outstanding,” captain Steven Stamkos said.
Domingue is staying in a downtown Tampa hotel with his wife, Genevieve, and 2-year-old daughter, Mila. Whether he stays, or goes back to Syracuse remains to be seen. General manager Steve Yzerman would only say the team has to make a decision between him and Budaj.
But Domingue is soaking it all in. He laughed when recalling the Jeff Hackett story. He's still never met him, though he came close as a kid.
His father called the Quebec rink where the Canadiens worked out in the summer. He told them he was a filmmaker hoping to do some research. Really, Charles just wanted to get his son in the dressing room.
It worked. Louis Dominigue sat down next to Canadiens starting goalie Jose Theodore, who replaced the retired Hackett. Louis was excited. He turned to Theodore and asked: "How is Jeff Hackett?"