After talking to Rob DiMaio, I had to look it up because I didn’t believe it was true: His NHL career spanned 19 seasons.
“I bounced around and played in a lot of different places, but yes, I started in 1988,” DiMaio said. “I had to stop (after the 05-06 season) because I had some concussion-related problems, but I might have been able to go another couple seasons.”
And he probably could have. Never an elite offensive player – heck he only had 277 points in 19 seasons, or about 14.6 points per season – DiMaio lasted as long as he did for his grit, fearlessness, and willingness to be a defensive-minded forward long before it was cool to be a defensive-minded forward.
Still, 19 seasons in the NHL is usually reserved for the All-Stars of the league, players who usually have a far greater bite in the game than DiMaio did as a versatile fourth liner.
But he did buck those odds. He played in 894 career games for seven different teams – 109 with the Flyers over parts of three seasons – and he left an indelible mark everywhere he went.
Selected by the New York Islanders In the sixth round (No. 118 overall) of the 1987 NHL Entry Draft, DiMaio made his NHL debut as a 20-year-old in 1988.
He played parts of four seasons with the Islanders before being taken by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1992 expansion draft.
He spent two seasons with the fledgling new team in Tampa Bay, before being traded to the Flyers at the 1994 trade deadline for Jim Cummins and a fourth round pick in the 1995 Draft.
(The Flyers would later get that pick back from the Lightning in exchange for Alexander Selivanov).
In those three years with the Flyers, DiMaio posted 12 goals and 21 assists for 33 points, and was part of the resurgence of the franchise after missing the playoffs for five consecutive seasons.
“Philadelphia was a real good stop for me,” DiMaio said. “We had some really good teams and were really competitive and had a close knit group of guys.”
DiMaio was linemates with Jim Montgomery in 1995 when the Flyers traded for John LeClair and Eric Desjardins. Leclair was immediately paired with Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg to create the Legion of Doom, the most dominating line in hockey in the mid-to-late-90s.
Montgomery gave them the nickname by which they will forever be known, but the inspiration may have come from conversations with other depth forwards like DiMaio.
“When LeClair got there and they were put together it was like, ‘Wow,’” DiMaio said. “We used to stand around and just watch them during practice and we’d be in awe. It was then that we felt like we had all the pieces in place and were saying to one another, ‘We could take a run at this.’”
And they gave it a good run in the 1995 playoffs before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals in six games.
“The Devils were a deep and experienced team who played about as sound a system as there’s ever been,” DiMaio said. “We gave them all they could handle but we had a few breaks go against us and came up just short.
“If we could have just won two more games, I would have liked our chances against Detroit in the Finals because they weren’t quite as dominant yet as they eventually became. That was probably the best chance I had of winning a Cup in my career, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
DiMaio played the next season with the Flyers, who were upset in the second round by an upstart Florida Panthers team, and then went into the following summer facing the uncertainty of free agency for the first time.
He was inked by the Boston Bruins, where he played parts of four seasons before again being traded at the deadline in 2000 to the New York Rangers in exchange for Mike Knuble.
He played just 12 games with the Rangers and then, over the summer, was traded again to Carolina for another former Flyer – Sandy McCarthy.
After one season with the Hurricanes, he signed a free agent contract with the Dallas Stars where he played for three seasons until the 2004 lockout.
Without a job and having a hard time finding work in Europe because a lot of NHL stars were playing there after the season was cancelled, DiMaio played just nine games for Langnau of the Swiss League and nine games for Milan in the Italian League.
The Lightning signed him as a low-rent free agent in 2005-06 and it turned out to be his final season in the NHL.
After his career ended, DiMaio wanted to stay involved in the sport, and was hired as a professional scout by the St. Louis Blues.
Always a smart and sharp observer of the sport of hockey, he quickly rose through the ranks and is now the Blues Director of Pro Scouting.
While he thoroughly enjoys his role he’s hoping that it remains just another stepping stone on his way to a larger goal.
“As of now I’m in a management position and I’m seeing what it takes to run an organization,” DiMaio said. “At some point, I would like to take a shot at being a general manager, but there aren’t a lot of those kinds of jobs to go around, so really it’s a wait and see kind of situation for me, but it’s definitely something I’d like to do.”
In the meantime, he is going to continue to work to help the Blues develop into one of the best teams in the Western Conference. And when he has time, he’s going to remember his past.
DiMaio recently attended the Flyers Charities and Flyers Alumni Golf Outing where he caught up with several old friends.
While he remains tight with Lindros (the two belong to the same country club outside Toronto and often golf together) as well as LeClair and Shjon Podein, DiMaio loves alumni events for the chance to reconnect with some old friends.
“Those events make the past seem like yesterday,” DiMaio said. “There are guys that you haven’t seen in maybe 10 years and all of the sudden it’s like we were just in the locker room together the day before.
“It’s even more dynamic in Philadelphia with the Flyers organization. Playing there was special. I’m lucky because I got to play at the Spectrum, which was an incredible building in front of some of the best fans, not just in hockey, but in all of sports. It was just a really fun place to play.
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