My pre-game routine ended up being the reason I met Mario Lemieux. It was during a warm-up at Madison Square Garden in the 1991-92 season. I was stretching at centre ice, staring down the Penguins' tough guys, and Mario was skating around. I looked over at him at one point, for no other reason than because he's Mario Lemieux and he was already a legend. As he skated by me, Mario saw me looking and said something to me that I couldn't quite make out. I kept stretching, thinking that he was trying to chirp me. He kept skating around, and I could see he was laughing the whole way around, and then he finally stopped, leaned against the boards, and said, "No, seriously, Tie: can you get me and ten of my teammates into the China Club?
It wasn't what I was expecting to hear, so all I could say was, "Yeah."
In the early 1990s, the China Club was the hottest nightclub in Manhattan. It was almost impossible to get in on a normal night, no matter who you were. I had been there a few times, and I'd become friends with one of the bouncers there, Johnny B. I treated him like a normal guy, and we got to know each other well. So whenever I showed up, I would walk past all the celebrities lined up outside, hug Johnny and the other bouncers in their black leather coats, and head right in. This was in the day when Mike Tyson was the boxer to beat and Mark Wahlberg was Marky Mark. Those were the sorts of guys you'd meet at the China Club.
I really liked watching Mike Tyson fight. He wasn't a tall guy -- roughly the same height as me -- but he was fearless. I was heavily influenced by him and other greats like Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas "The Hitman" Hearns, and Roberto Duran. They were all smart fighters and warriors, and I got my fighting edge by watching those five in action during their heyday. At the club, though, Tyson was very generous. He would buy champagne, Cristal and Rosé, for everyone in the VIP section. We're talking thirty to forty bottles, and Tyson would cover all of it. He wasn't a sociable guy, but still, he'd be surrounded by people and he'd pay for drinks for all of them.
Mark Wahlberg was a little different. I met Mark for the first time at the China Club. This was back before he was a movie star. I don't think Mark was much of a hockey fan or that he knew who I was at the time -- to this day, if a Boston team is winning, Mark suddenly becomes an expert in the sport. But someone must have told Mark I was a tough guy with the Rangers, because he approached me at the club so respectfully. As I shook his hand for the first time, I could tell he was going to be something special.
The Penguins smoked us 5-2 in the game, including two goals and an assist by Mario, so we had a closed-door team meeting. I was still in my hockey pants and skates when we finished. All of a sudden, the dressing room door opened and the media and everyone else came flooding in. In the commotion, a security guard came up to me and said, "Hey, Tie, Mario Lemieux is at the door." I had no idea Mario would be ready that quickly, but there he was, already showered, with his hair gelled and everything.
"So, we all set?" he asked. "You're going to come for a drink, right?"
I wasn't sure I wanted to go out that night, but I ended up going with Brian Leetch because he was friends with Kevin Stevens, who was with the Penguins at the time. We got to the China Club, and the Penguins players went off and did their own thing. I talked to Mario a little bit that night, but that was about it. Nothing special really seemed to come of it, and we all went our separate ways at the end of the night.
I would often run into guys from other teams at the China Club. One night in my first season with New York, I was at the club with a bunch of my Rangers teammates when we ran into a group of players from the New Jersey Devils. One of the Devils' defencemen, Ken Daneyko, knew Mark Messier from when they were growing up in Alberta. The two of them were chirping each other back and forth. Suddenly Messier yelled out to Ken, "Hey, this kid can beat you in an arm wrestle!" and he pointed to me.
Ken was a big, strong guy, and as we got set up at the table, his teammates were talking to each other about how quickly he'd beat me. Ken insisted on betting on it, so there was a hundred dollars on the table. Well, I won the first round. And then the second. Then we switched hands and I beat Ken with my left hand, too. I would let him get three-quarters of the way to winning, and then, just when he thought he had me, I'd crank his arm back and slam his hand down to win the round.
Ken got more and more frustrated as we went, and he was doing shots of Jägermeister and tequila the whole time. When he'd finally tired of losing arm-wrestling matches, Ken shouted, "Let's head-butt!" I really didn't want to head-butt Ken, but he wouldn't take no for an answer. Things didn't go the way that Ken planned, though, and the next thing you know, he had a massive goose egg on his forehead and I was still standing. The next time we played New Jersey, I was in the dressing room when Messier approached me with an envelope with my name on it. Inside was a hundred-dollar bill that Ken had sent over. We were all a little nuts back then, but in a good way.
Excerpted from Shift Work by Tie Domi, published by Simon & Schuster. Copyright © TD International, 2015. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.