Just over a year ago, a baby-faced Robert Dome became the youngest hockey player to sign a professional contract in the modern era at the ripe age of 16.
Still baby-faced, and with perhaps a bit more baby fat, the 17-year-old has now become the youngest player in the modern era to be dumped by a pro team and then picked up by another. As expected, Dome was released by the Utah Grizzlies and then signed a new deal with the Long Beach Ice Dogs on Wednesday."We just reached an agreement with his agent, Mike Barnett, to release him from his contract," said Utah coach/general manager Butch Goring, adding that Utah and Barnett have had discussions since July. "We let him out of his contract with us to allow him a situation to get more ice time with another team."
The struggling Ice Dogs didn't hesitate to sign the teenager.
"He is a young player with unlimited potential," said Long Beach coach John Van Boxmeer.
Dome came to the U.S. from his native Slovakia last year hoping to increase his stock for the 1997 NHL draft. The right winger was tabbed, and still is by some, as one of the top picks in the draft.
Despite his projected success, the 6-foot-2 Dome struggled to fit in with Utah as a rookie and even more so this season. In limited playing time last year, he scored only 10 goals and nine assists in 56 games. But he was a bystander throughout the Grizz's Turner Cup title run, not playing in a single playoff game. That trend carried over as he didn't even dress for a game even though the team lacked forwards several times this year.
Goring said he knew in the summer that Dome wasn't going to see much, if any, ice time in Utah. That's mainly because of what Goring calls "the Islander invasion" of good forwards who were sent down from the parent club. Another thing that hurt Dome, who reportedly came to camp 13 pounds above his playing weight of 205, was a somewhat lax work ethic.
"Robert still doesn't necessarily understand what it takes to be a pro . . .," said Goring, adding that he's seen several younger players who excelled at the junior level struggle once they got into the pros. "I thought he could have worked harder."
That especially hurt his defensive game, said the two-time IHL coach of the year who still believes that Dome can become a productive pro. "From the offensive standpoint, he can certainly play at this level," said Goring.
Dome and the Ice Dogs, who have already lost four games to Utah, return to the Delta Center to play the Grizzlies on Tuesday.
The Grizzlies also announced that New York called up center Claude Lapointe, the Grizz's top scorer who leads the IHL with seven goals, right winger Brent Hughes and defenseman Doug Houda. In return, Utah received forwards Dave Archibald and Mike Donnelly.