Dominik Shine is willing to do anything to boost the Griffins’ chances for success.
Story and photo by Mark Newman
Hockey doesn’t have utility players like baseball does, but if such a role existed, Dominik Shine would be the embodiment of the all-purpose talent.
He’s the ultimate team player, the can-do chameleon who will happily fill any role. His skill set allows him to be adaptable to anything that is thrown his way, and he is unusually reliable and responsible in the process. What he might lack in pure ability is overshadowed by his versatility and his ability to get the job done.
In other words, Dominik Shine will do whatever it takes.
Nothing illustrates his flexible attitude better than his willingness to play defense when the Griffins found themselves short of blueliners last season. He had played the position briefly a couple of times in junior hockey but the experience was so long ago that it barely counted for anything.
Even so, he jumped at the opportunity.
“It was actually really fun,” Shine said. “The coaches asked me if I could do it and I just said ‘yeah.’ They took a chance and it worked out. I had a really good time.”
A one-game experiment suddenly turned into a several-game stint.
“Honestly, I felt comfortable right away,” he said. “I’ve always been a decent defender, so I felt I could skate with guys and keep up with them. I made sure I was never put into a position where I had to skate backward the whole time. If you watch a lot of the good defensemen, they will often take an angle to cut a guy off so they can stay [skating] forward.”
That is not to say playing defense is the same as playing forward, his natural position.
“It’s a way different game,” he said. “There’s not as much skating as you might think. You would think that there is more skating, but a lot of the hard stuff for defensemen happens inside your blue line. You’re battling with guys in the corners, blocking shots, making sure no shots get through, and doing stuff like that.”
Shine said his temporary shift to defense was eased by his coaches and teammates who were extremely encouraging and supportive.
“They helped my confidence because they were giving me compliments and telling me that I was looking good,” he recalled. “I was feeling good back there, moving around and having fun. It may have helped that the coaches knew I wasn’t a defenseman, so they didn’t have any expectations for me. By the end, I felt a lot more comfortable.”
The experience paid dividends this season when Shine was asked to play center.
“I think it set me up for success by helping me see the game a whole different way,” he said. “I wasn’t a center my whole life and now I’ve been playing center the whole year. After having played defense last season, I felt so comfortable going to center this year.”
With the coronavirus, call-ups and injuries keeping the Griffins’ roster in a constant state of flux, the coaching staff has continued to be resourceful. But even Shine admits there is a limit to what he is willing to do. “It’s been a crazy couple of years,” he said. “I’ve played left D, right D, left wing, right wing and center. The only place I have not played is goalie. No, thank you!”
Thanks to his resilient nature, Shine quickly adjusted to the responsibilities of a center, which are different from playing either wing.
“As a center, you have to be a little more strategic in terms of how you use your energy in the corners,” he said. “As a winger, I felt like I was just sprinting. That was my game, using my speed all the time. As a center, you’ve got to be a bit more calculated. If something happens in the offensive zone, you’re the one that’s getting all the way back. You have to think the game a little differently.”
Shine has been finding different ways to contribute ever since he came to Grand Rapids near the end of the 2016-17 season. He joined the Griffins after leading Northern Michigan University in scoring during his senior year, when he tallied 20 goals in 33 games.
Fighting for ice time in the pros required Shine to transform his game.
“At Northern, I was playing 20-25 minutes a game some nights, and when I came to the pros there were some nights where I was only playing five or six,” he said. “In that sense, it was a big transformation. But I’ve always played hard. I’ve always hit and I’ve always tried to do the things that coaches have asked of me.”
Shine joined the Griffins as a solid two-way forward –– a player who was defensively responsible and yet was able to occasionally contribute a goal or two.
“The big thing for my coach at Northern was defense,” he said. “Coming out of juniors, I was just trying to score. That’s the mindset of most young players. They focus on the fun things like scoring. But the things that keep you in the lineup are the little things like playing defense and being hard to play against.”
His role has not changed drastically since he first joined the Griffins, but his perspective has.
“That first year, they wanted me to focus on creating energy, hitting, and maybe some fighting when needed,” he said. “It’s the same things I did in juniors to stay in the lineup. Now that I’m seeing more ice time, I think they’re looking to get a little more out of me.”
The Detroit native has been living up to the billing of his surname this season, scoring a pair of highlight-reel goals in December that ignited the Van Andel Arena partisans. On Dec. 4, Shine undressed a Rockford defenseman on the rush, dancing around him in the slot before slipping the puck inside the right post, then he ended the year with a bang by scoring an unassisted, shorthanded goal on a breakaway against Milwaukee on New Year’s Eve.
Like his similarly unheralded teammates Turner Elson and Tyler Spezia, Shine has stepped up to the challenge of another Covid-crossed season. All three are producing points at a career-best pace.
“We’re three guys who work really hard –– we always have,” Shine said. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of ice time and whether things go in or they don’t, but we take pride in being the kind of players who are hard to play against. We do our best to play the right way.”
Born less than two months apart, Shine and Spezia grew up playing hockey together on the east side of the state. Their mothers are best friends, so the chance to play a lot of minutes on the same line together this season is an opportunity not lost on them.
“Tyler and I have known each other since we were probably eight or nine years old and we were teammates,” he said. “Later, we played against each other in the USHL and then again in college. He went to Bowling Green while I was going to Northern, so our schools played each other about four times a year. And then we met up again here.
“I think we’re doing a good job with the opportunity that we’re being given. It’s been really fun to play a lot together this season. I love playing with him. I hope he feels the same way. It’s easy to play with him because we can talk and be honest with each other. He’s like a brother to me.”
Now in his fifth full season with the Griffins, Shine feels at home here. He got married in Grand Rapids in 2019. He met his wife, Taylor, when he was playing for the USHL team in Lincoln, Neb., a dozen years ago. “We started dating before we went to different colleges,” he said.
His wife attended the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and is now a product manager at Stryker in Kalamazoo. “She’s definitely the brains of the family,” he said. “She’s awesome and I’m very proud of her. She’s a big part of my life and she helps keep things in perspective.”
The stability that Shine has found in his life at home echoes the relative security he has enjoyed at the rink. His entire pro career has been spent in Grand Rapids after four years in Lincoln and four years at Northern.
He had originally been recruited to play at Ohio State University but changed his mind after the Buckeyes changed coaches. Unfortunately, he hurt his knee three games later.
“Northern called me right away after I got injured and told me that they still wanted me to come because they had made an offer earlier. From that moment, I felt a different level of loyalty,” he said. “When someone takes a chance on you, you want to perform for them and you want to win with them.
“That’s how I felt about Grand Rapids when the Griffins signed me. Obviously being a Wings fan growing up, it’s all I ever wanted to do – I wanted to play for the Red Wings. To be here and to be part of this organization means the world to me. I just want to do my best and I want to win here for as long as I can.”
Shine is confident that the Wings are building something special.
“There are so many nice guys in this organization right now,” he said. “I think the leaders of this team pride themselves on building a good culture in the locker room. If there are players who don’t want to be part of the team or only care about themselves, they find their way out.
“The core guys here really do care. That’s what makes it fun and I think that’s why we’ve had success for so many years – way before I got here.”
Shine feels his play has improved as he has matured. He’s learned there’s much more to the game than scoring goals.
“If I could go back and tell my younger self anything, I would say, ‘just be honest with yourself.’ Sometimes I got frustrated my first year because I went from the guy who was going to score 20 goals to the guy who had a lot to learn.
“I feel like I’ve grown a lot since I’ve been here. Instead of being frustrated with the situation, I wish I would have been honest with myself and grown a little faster. You have to be honest about your situation and that gets in the way for some guys.
“Obviously, I found a way to stay here. I know it can be hard for a young guy coming in. Everyone was ‘the man’ wherever they came from, and now you’re playing with a bunch of other guys who were the best wherever they played. You have to look at it as your time to grow as a person and to grow as a player.
“In saying that, I’m happy with the way things have worked out.”
Shine feels for young players who are breaking into the league now, especially given how the pandemic has played havoc with the schedule.
“For the young guys especially, it’s been difficult. Last year was the hardest in terms of the travel we were doing,” he said. “It’s easy to get caught up in being negative, saying ‘Covid is getting the best of us’ and things like that. You try to focus on those things you can control, even when it’s hard to stay positive in times like this. Of course, that’s true for everyone [in society] these days.”
Shine believes the Griffins are showing signs of finally coming together as a team.
“The pandemic added a whole different element,” he said. “Before, it was a matter of trying to figure out how we could become a team. Now it’s a matter of figuring out who’s on the team and let’s figure out what we’re doing. It’s still fun, but it adds a whole different level.
“It’s got to be hard on the coaches and management, too. Just figuring out who’s available to play each game, especially when you’re faced with a crazy schedule. Hopefully, at some point, this whole Covid thing will settle down and we can get our team back together and make a push for playoffs.”
Coming into the New Year, the Griffins were facing a slate of 17 games in 37 games. “I’m excited about it,” Shine said. “We just need to get healthy and get all of our guys back. I can count on one hand how many times I was on a line with the same guys. We’re playing all over the place. Guys are going up to the Wings, guys are out sick. If we can stay healthy and start to get rolling, I think we’ll have a good second half.
“For all the guys, it’s a big opportunity. I think we can take advantage of the opportunity and do a good job. This is a good team. The right pieces are here.”