The Dom of the Devils: Dominic Garcia has left an indelible mark on opponents, ASU hockey program

Senior forward will play his final two games this weekend at Ohio State

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When Dominic Garcia took his official visit to ASU in the spring of 2017, Sun Devils coach Greg Powers had a big night planned. He took Garcia and three other recruits — the Dubuque Fighting Saints’ Jaxon Castor and Quinn Preston, and current Sun Devil Gvido Jansons — to Culinary Dropout in Tempe.

Garcia remembers the outdoor table where they sat. He remembers the appetizers that they shared and the pastrami sandwich that he ate. He remembers feeling comfortable in conversations, asking a lot of questions, and coaxing the other players to chime in.

“I remember that trip pretty vividly,” he said.

Here’s what Powers remembers.

“I knew right away that we had a leader,” he said. “The way that he controlled the conversation and the presence that he had about him with three kids he didn’t even know, and a staff that he didn’t know, was so impressive. Most kids would feel really awkward in that situation. He just carried on a conversation like he was out with his best friends. He did everything so naturally.”

Powers made Garcia an alternate captain in his sophomore season. He created a new tradition that same season in which Garcia read the starting lineup to the team in the dressing room before games to inject some pre-game energy.

And when Garcia opted to share his experiences with racism as a youth player, as a student-athlete at Culver Military Academy, and while he was in juniors, Powers and corporate communications manager Mitch Terrell gave him platform without hesitation because they knew that he would craft that message with respect, eloquence and strength.

“I don’t know that I reached out to anyone ahead of time or really planned it,” Garcia said of his June post that coincided with Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. “With all that was happening, and reading people’s posts and reading about the movement, it just got me thinking.

“I hadn’t told anyone about those experiences, but putting it down on paper was like lifting a huge weight off my chest. I think my parents were happy, too. They didn’t know some of the stuff I had been through, either, but I have had the support of the staff and my family throughout the entire thing so that made it much easier to decide to publish it.”

The post reverberated throughout the Sun Devils’ roster. Forward Willie Knierim reached out to talk about Garcia’s experiences and better understand his perspective. Two of Garcia’s closest friends on the team, Johnny Walker and Jacob Wilson, listened, learned and supported.

“That was just about the time we were all working out together in the summer at my house in Gilbert,” Walker said. “There were multiple conversations about all the stuff that was going on and just insight into, not only his personal issues, but the whole black community and the struggles that we have obviously never had to deal with, being white males.”

“I didn’t know how to go about it,” Wilson added. “I just knew I wanted to understand more of where he was coming from and what he’s gone through and just kind of be there for him if there was anything I could do.”

Dom Garcia’s favorite picture from his playing days is a shot of him competing against Wisconsin’s K'Andre Miller (now with the New York Rangers). “To you all, it may look like two players on opposing teams battling for the puck. To me, I see a great person and hockey player in K'Andre. But I also see two black men in a predominantly white sport, who overcame adversity from not only a performance based standpoint, but racial adversity as well. Two men who play at some of the highest levels of hockey but still continue to fight for equality.”

The post ushered Garcia, who identifies as Hispanic-Black, onto the national stage, but teammates and coaches will tell you there is so much more to the senior who will play his final two games as a Sun Devil when ASU concludes its season at Ohio State today and Friday.

On the ice, Garcia’s role is to bring energy, “to kill penalties, get pucks out and play a hard, gritty game, and he embraces it and does it better than anyone on our team for sure,” Walker said.

College hockey does not track hits. If it did, Terrell is certain that Garcia’s total would be impressive.

Off the ice, Wilson said Garcia makes everyone feel like “you guys are best friends.” And when a player needs a little more coaxing to come out of his shell, Garcia is there to help with that, too. When Mario Lemieux’s son, Austin, was with the Sun Devils, he roomed with Garcia, Walker and Wilson.

“He was pretty reserved at the beginning, kept to himself,” Garcia said.

You could say that Garcia helped Lemieux jump out of that shell, and his skin.

“One of the things we liked to do is scare each other, like jump out around the corners,” Wilson said. “With Austin, you could get him pretty good, so Dom would sneak into his room and hide under the bed and wait for Lem to come back in the room and jump out.”

The tactic eventually became a common practice for all four roommates.

“It was almost to the point where you developed a sixth sense where you could tell someone was in your room when you came in,” Garcia said, laughing. “Something wasn't right. The door wasn’t quite how you left it or something was moved. You were checking everywhere whenever you came back to your room.”

Garcia hasn’t given much thought to playing his final series as a Sun Devil player this weekend in Columbus, Ohio. He was taken aback when teammates started asking him about it at ASU’s last official practice on Wednesday, and he had nothing prepared when Powers asked him to choose the final drill of that practice.

“All I said was, ‘Guys, I’m not dying.’” he said.

He isn’t even leaving. Garcia will return next season as the team’s student coach while he pursues a master’s degree in criminal justice. As an undergraduate, Garcia majored in forensic psychology with minors in homeland security, and criminology and criminal justice. Garcia hopes to work for the FBI in the area of behavioral science, but he is looking forward to another year alongside his teammates.

“Even if I decide I don't want to coach, I will finish with my masters and that will obviously help, but who knows, maybe next year I will fall in love with coaching and go help UNLV become Division I just like Powers has done here,” the Las Vegas native said.

“I love what I'm studying and I want to pursue a career in that field, but with COVID, it was hard to get a job right away without exposure and internships so I knew I needed more time and the master’s program obviously helps. But I also love the idea of staying with the guys. A part of me still wanted to be around hockey. I don't want to just cut it off cold turkey.”

Garcia doesn’t have anything special planned for these final two games, and Wilson and Walker just want to get him two wins.

“If we were finishing at home, maybe it would be a little different,” Garcia said. “After the last game, it will probably sink in, after I take this equipment off and it's not going on competitively any more. I’ll try to pull it together like I always do, but on the inside I’m sure I’ll be pretty sentimental about what I have accomplished. 

“My goal was always to play Division I hockey. Now that I’m here and finishing up, it feels like I did it. I feel a big sense of accomplishment. I’m just grateful that my parents and my family have been able to see this part of my journey because they have given me their support and it hasn’t been easy. Since my sophomore year of high school, I have been in the Midwest or out East so they haven’t been able to watch me as much. That’s a big reason I came here. Even the struggling points made me appreciate it all the more. It hasn’t been easy, but I wouldn’t take anything back.”

Neither would Powers.

“Dom is the ultimate team guy,” ASU’s coach said. “He makes the locker room a better place, he makes the rink a place where you want to show up every day, and he always has a smile on his face. He’s an unbelievable kid. We wouldn't be where we are without him, and he’s still going to be a huge part of where we’re going.”

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