North Bay, Ont. (by David DiCenzo) - Maria and Malory Dominico have suited up for the same team before. The two sisters from North Bay will get the unique opportunity to skate alongside each other for the Nipissing Lakers this season after Malory, a first-year forward, joined her sister, who is now in her junior year of OUA hockey.
There have been a few other occasions where the Dominicos have shared the same ice, including a tournament in Stoney Creek a few years back when they played Midget AA for the North Bay Ice Boltz. Their team was in the championship game, with the score tied in overtime. Malory, a speedy skater with a wicked shot in her arsenal, was sprung for a chance that could end the game and secure the hardware.
“I got the puck and ended up going in on a breakaway,” says the younger of the sisters. “Maria was trailing behind. There’s no one in front of me besides the goalie and she’s yelling for a drop pass.
“I didn’t pass. I ended up scoring, we won the tournament – and Maria got mad at me.”
That’s not to suggest there’s a big sibling rivalry among the Dominicos. Maria and Malory come from a tight home in North Bay, where they and their older brother Mason grew up in an environment where family was valued. Their parents Natalie and Kevin emphasized togetherness among them and that love of being around each other has ultimately influenced the two sisters’ hockey careers.
Both had spent time away to play, Maria in Whitby for a stint with the Durham West Juniors when she was in grade 10, and Malory in Barrie with the city’s Junior Sharks. In the end, North Bay, and Nipissing University, is where they wanted to be. That they ended up playing together as teammates has been an incredible gift.
“Playing hockey in the OUA, at the highest level in Canada, is a once in a lifetime experience and being able to spend this time with Malory is something I’ll cherish forever,” says the 20-year-old Maria.
Younger sister concurs.
“I’m in my first year of university and I will play with Maria for three years,” Malory adds. “To be able to share this experience with my sister will make this university journey so much more special.”
Their local hockey community is a strong one and the Dominicos got immersed in it early. Maria recalls doing gymnastics at the age of seven when the North Bay & District Girls Hockey Association began calling families looking for kids to sign up.
"My dad asked me if I wanted to play and I guess I said, ‘yes,’” she says. “We went to Wal-Mart and got one of those pre-made bags that had all of the equipment in it.
“When I started skating, I probably fell about every second stride. But I always got up with a smile.”
Malory followed suit and the two sisters began to get better, committing to the game with power-skating lessons at the local Pete Palangio Arena and the nearby Powasson Sportsplex. By the time each player was in Atom, their skills were evolving and hockey would become a primary focus from then on and throughout their high school careers at St. Joseph-Scollard Hall CSS.
Malory has no problem suggesting that big sister is the better player, with her well-rounded game, agility, and puck-handling prowess. But Maria, the OUA Rookie of the Year in 2017/18 after going 15-11-26 in 22 games, is envious of Malory’s big shot. They figure they could complement each other playing on a line together, something that will hopefully happen for the Lakers this season under the guidance of head coach Darren Turcotte, a North Bay legend, who amassed 195 goals and 216 assists in a distinguished 14-year National Hockey League career.
“We want to play together but Turc hasn’t taken our suggestion yet,” Maria says with a laugh. “We’re patiently waiting.”
Coach Turcotte sees both as extremely skilled players, who are expected to bring a lot to the Nipissing offence this year.
“It’s an interesting dynamic between the two of them,” he says. “They are sisters that do gravitate to one another both on and off the ice. We currently have them split in lines to see how they develop apart from one another. Obviously, there’s always the opportunity for them to play together at some point over their careers but as of right now both have adapted well to where they are in our lineup.”
The coach loves the fact that the Dominicos decided to stay home and play, as have many others from the Ice Boltz program over the years. Like Maria and Malory, Lakers’ Danika Ranger, Britney Zack, Mackenzie McMahon, Melanie Young, and Teagan Feltz (as well as Madison Desmarais next season) all have North Bay ties.
“We continue to work with the local talent at the younger ages and are hopeful that this trend continues with the talented players that are coming up through the minor hockey system,” says Coach Turcotte, a 30-goal man in each of his four seasons with the North Bay Centennials in his OHL days.
The sisters, in turn, are eager to play for their coach.
“Being in the North Bay community, I’ve known him for a long time,” says Malory. “He always pushes us to get better on and off the ice, as players and as individuals. He wants us to all succeed.
“After our first two exhibition games, I noticed that the level of hockey is so much faster than what I’m used to. It’s a big adjustment but the practices and the drills that Turc has us do gets us ready. It’s really helped me succeed in those games.”
Maria has friends on other teams in the OUA and they have told her how much they hate playing against Nipissing because of the Lakers’ combination of grit and skill.
“I never played for Turc growing up but he was always coaching in North Bay at the highest levels,” adds Maria. “Playing for him was always something I aspired to so it makes me feel special that I’m able to do it now.
“You can tell how much time and effort he puts into our team. Sometimes I feel like he sleeps at the rink. It shows we’re his number one priority and it’s an awesome feeling to have. You want your coach to care about you but he goes above and beyond.”
With a coach committed to excellence and playing for a university team in their own backyard, the stage is now set for these two close sisters to perform at their best. Each remembers the adversity they faced when hockey pulled them away from home. Malory moved back to North Bay from Barrie after just a month and a half and spent the rest of that grueling season making the 2.5-hour trek three times a week.
Maria wondered what her future in the game would look like when she was in Whitby during her grade 10 year. In addition to that setback, she was invited to a few different Team Canada development camps where she didn’t make it beyond the fitness testing stage.
Those are distant memories now for the Dominicos. They are where they belong, with each other, whether that’s at the rink, a family card game, or getting out to a movie together.
“Staying home in North Bay with my family and being on this team with Maria makes it that much better for me now,” says Malory.
“When I committed to Nipissing, knowing that I would spend the next few years at home in North Bay, lifted so much off my shoulders,” Maria says. “I was able to finally feel happy.
“University is one of the most important times in someone’s life and sharing it with Malory is special.”