Tenacity and a willingness to embrace a tough-nosed style of play are helping Dominik Shine to establish himself as an AHL rookie in pursuit of NHL dreams.
Story and photo by Mark Newman
Dominik Shine may share the spelling of his first name with one of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history, but it will be his ability to create good plays in front of the crease that will push his chances to graduate to the NHL.
“I like his speed and how he’s tenacious on the puck,” said Griffins head coach Todd Nelson. “I also like his physicality and how when he keeps the game simple, he’s really effective and creates opportunities in the offensive zone.”
Shine is not the biggest player on the ice – he’s a 5-11, 180-lb. forward – but he’s all heart, a gritty puck hound who isn’t afraid to stick up for himself, as he proved when he dropped Cleveland’s Joe Pendenza with an impressive two-punch knockout on Dec. 29 at Van Andel Arena.
His tough-nosed style fits his blue-collar mentality, which was borne out of his family roots as the son of a Detroit autoworker growing up on the city’s ethnic southwest side. “My dad was a big WIngs fan, and although he never had the opportunity to play hockey, he made sure that I got the chance,” Shine said.
Shine remembers being “terrified” when he first started skating, but he quickly discovered that he loved playing hockey. “By age 7 or 8, I knew I had a knack,’ he said. “I loved playing baseball and basketball, but I knew from an early age that playing hockey was what I wanted to do. Other sports were just for fun.”
His family moved to Ypsilanti and then settled in Pinckney, where his young hockey career took off. As a teenager, he won back-to-back national championships while playing for Little Caesars (bantams) and Compuware (midget minor).
Ultimately, he decided to further his hockey fortunes outside the state, joining the Lincoln Stars in the USHL for the 2009-10 season.
“I was a real homebody growing up, so to be only 16 and go 13 hours away to play junior hockey was a hard decision for my mom and dad,” he said. “Fortunately, I met a lot of great people in Lincoln and I’m very thankful for the opportunity I had to play there.”
As a 16-year-old on a team populated mostly by players who were three or four years older, Shine grew up quickly.
“We had a tough first year, winning only 16 games (out of 60), but it provided a lot of opportunity for me,” said Shine, who tied for third in scoring on the team. He also led the team in penalty minutes, with 165 PIM in 54 games.
“Once I got the opportunity to fight a couple of times, I found out that I was not bad at it, so I just kept going with it,” he said. “I liked to fight and I think guys respected me for it. I always liked boxing and that kind of stuff, so I just started paying attention to it a little more.”
Shine played four seasons in Lincoln, eventually becoming captain his last two years with the team. “I had a great coach (Jim McGroarty) who believed in me,” he said. “He knew I was young, so he cared for me and treated me like a son. He was like a father figure and he always pushed me to become better.”
While in Lincoln, he was recruited to play at Ohio State University, but he changed his mind when the Buckeyes changed coaches. “I ended up hurting my knee the third game after I de-committed from Ohio State,” he said. “I was pretty nervous. I was still in juniors and didn’t have a college commitment.”
Fortunately, he got a call from Northern Michigan University and was thrilled to get the opportunity to play in Marquette.
“People think it’s the worst because of the winters, but I love the place,” he said. “I stayed there in the summer, and during that time of the year it’s something special. My college friends and I had a house on the lake and it was great. It’s no joke in the winter, but you get used to it.”
Shine showed steady improvement during his four years at Northern. His goal totals increased each year, going from six to seven to 15 to 20 in his senior season, when he tallied 30 points in 33 games.
“College hockey was tough. For me, it was a big jump from junior hockey,” Shine said. “I always figure things out. In the beginning, I just tried to do the fundamental things right, knowing the scoring will eventually come.”
After finishing his college career with the Wildcats last spring, Shine signed an amateur tryout contract with the Griffins along with a standard player’s contract for 2017-18. He appeared in eight games with Grand Rapids at the end of the 2016-17 regular season, tallying three assists.
“I was glad that I got those games, especially because I didn’t know if I would get any,” he said. “Each league is different – the play, the pace, the systems are all different – and it takes a while to become accustomed to those things. Those eight games definitely helped get me a spot on the team this year.”
Although he didn’t see any action in the postseason, Shine was also happy to be a black ace with the Griffins during the first three rounds of their run to the Calder Cup. “It was fun to see everyone on the same page,” he said. “Everyone had a role and they did it. It was a valuable experience.”
Getting to play for the Red Wings in the annual prospects tournament in Traverse City last fall was a thrill; participating in the Red Wings’ training camp was unbelievable.
“From the day I signed, it’s been like a dream come true,” he said. “For my family, it was pretty surreal. They were really excited to see me in a Wings jersey.” His parents were in the stands when he scored twice in one game. “Needless to say, they were pretty pumped,” he said.
His introduction to the AHL was less exciting. He recorded only two goals in 23 games during the first three months of the season, when he was scratched 11 times.
“I thought I had a good camp and I was pretty happy coming out of it, but it’s tough when you’re in and out of the lineup,” he said. “If you sit out four games and come in for one, what can you do to make a difference? You just try to keep a level head and wait for your opportunity.”
He admits that sitting in the stands was not pleasant. “In juniors and college, you’re there and you’re playing, so sitting out was something that I hadn’t experienced,” he said. “But when you get here, you see there are a lot of good players, so you have to wait your turn.
“I’ve tried to keep working and not get rattled by it.”
Shine turned to his college coach, Walt Kyle, who spent 15 seasons at NMU after spending four seasons as an NHL assistant along with four seasons as a head coach in the AHL and IHL.
“He told me, ‘Look, here’s what’s going to happen and what you need to do to get better,’” Shine said, noting that the pep talks helped him stay positive. “He told me to keep my mouth closed, keep working and it’ll come.”
In the first month after the Griffins opened the 2018 portion of their season slate, Shine saw his ice time increase as his offensive production improved, posting three goals and five assists in 13 games between Jan. 3 and Feb. 4. “As Nellie’s been giving me a little more ice time, my confidence has begun to grow,” he said.
For Shine to excel, he needs to continue to concentrate on what he does best.
“I think my strengths are not only bringing energy and playing physical, but making good plays in the offensive zone,” he said. “What separated me in college is that I learned how to play defense effectively. If you’re solid in the D-zone, the coach is going to trust you and give you more leeway in the offensive zone.”
And if dropping the gloves aids his cause, he will gladly oblige. He studied a little bit of jujitsu this past summer in preparation for his first AHL campaign.
“I’m not going to say I’m a perfect fighter, but I’ll always throw my hardest,” he said. “I think it’s fun and it’s exciting, so you get a rush from it, but it’s not like I’m skating around, looking for a chance to drop the gloves. I’ll fight if I have to. I don’t mind it.”
He takes pride in his play, determined to overcome the odds of making it as an undrafted free agent. “From the time when I was young, I’ve had that chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I’ve taken it upon myself to prove that I belong.”
He admires the work of first cousin Jessica Hernandez, a singer who has forged a musical career after working in the family’s Mexicantown Bakery from third grade. The pair belong to a group of cousins who were exceedingly close to their grandmother, Stella Alcala, who died from pancreatic cancer in September 2016 at the beginning of his senior season at NMU.
“I’ve fought for everything I’ve got,” he said, adding that it’s important to stay positive, no matter the circumstance. “Confidence is everything. It makes things a lot easier, that’s for sure.”