Saturday, July 16, 2016

At nearly 40, Shane Doan just gets hockey

By Larry Wigge

Shane Doan simply gets it.

Whether it's using his 6-1, 223-pound frame for outmuscling an opponent in from the the nets or using his quickness. It clearly works.

When it came down to the 39-year-old captain to step aside and let the younger players like Max Domi and Anthony Boisclair to move up the pecking order on offense, he helped the young players with the confidence he he learned on the job.

"He's captain, our leader, someone who brings everyone to the next level," Coyotes GM John Chayka said. "We're excited to reach an agreement with him and get him on a team we feel has a chance to be real good by the end of the season."

The 39-year-old Doan is coming off one of his best seasons, leading Arizona with 28 goals and finishing with 19 assists in 72 games. He has spent his entire 20-year career with the franchise, starting when it was in Winnipeg in 1995, and is its all-time leader in goals (296), points (945) and games (1,466).

Doan signed a one-year contract with a base salary of $2.5 million to give the Coyotes flexibility at a time when Chicago and St. Louis were fighting the salary cap level.

"I'm aware that in order for our team to be successful I'm going to take a lesser and lesser role," Doan said, he said tickling off other Dylan Strome, the third pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, and Brandon Perlini, the 12th pick in the 2014 draft. "There are going to be young guys that are going to take bigger and bigger roles ... which has already started to happen."

"Shane Doan had a great year," Chayka reasoned. "The way he impacts our team overall, I think they're all better players because of Shane."

"I can't stress enough on how the young guys made me feel relevant," he added about the young core that made big strides last season. "It could be hard being the old guy in the group. They are all ultra-respectful and eager to learn."

Doan's 31 goals in 2008-09 and 30 goals in '05-06 were clearly better, but the last three season have wound up with 13, 23 and 14. It was upbeat that Doan had 28 goals while the younger player were growing.

"He deserves it," coach Dave Tippett said. "When you look at what he's done for this franchise, it's incredible. His personal characteristics equal his abilities as a hockey player. That's an unbelievable combination. To do it for one organization for 20 years is incredible."

Whether it's in Southwest Arizona with Shane and his wife, Andrea, or it's in Southwestern Alberta with his parents, it's still home.

He talks about the exhilation of making the playoffs ...

"It's a relief, because you just want to get a chance to do something in the playoffs and make some noise," he says. "Everyone always talks about if you get out of the first round anything can happen. Now we've got to find a way to win that next round and that's really our next goal ... to win four more games. If we do that, we'll regroup again. Now, we've got that chance."

It's a long journey for a heart and soul player ... one very much worth the wait.

There's a plaque -- probably covered in dust in a closet back home at Bernie and Bernice Doan's Circle Square Ranch in Halkirk, Alberta, which doubles as a Christian camp for kids of all ages, where the youngsters come to ride horses, swim and do archery -- that chronicles a pretty interesting and intense hockey rivalry that not many people know about.

Five other members of Doan's family are already in Halls of Fame -- starting with his grandfather Muff Doan, who was the bareback champion at the Calgary Stampede back in 1937 and steer-riding champion in 1944, followed by great uncles Jack Wade, Urban and Earl and uncle Phil Doan -- all of whom are members of the Canadian Rodeo Hall of fame. But the feats of athleticism don't stop there. Shane's younger sister, Leighann, set an Alberta province record in the shot put and was a standout in the 100 meter dash before she turned her attention to basketball and led the French women's pro basketball league in scoring.

And that doesn't even take into consideration the hockey threads that marvelously are intertwined between the extended family that include the Ellerbys and Prices.

That puck history started with Shane's dad, Bernie, a defenseman who was picked in the sixth round of the 1971 NHL Draft by the St. Louis Blues and also includes the first-rounders -- Shane by Winnipeg, Carey Price by Montreal in 2005 and Keaton Ellerby by Florida in 2007. Plus, Ellerby's dad, Cal, played for the Calgary Wranglers junior team. His uncle, Dallas Ellerby, skated for Calgary, Edmonton and Victoria in the Western Hockey League. And Price's dad, Jerry, was a Calgary junior goalie, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers.

Instead of calf roping and bullriding, the 6-2, 216-pound Doan chose to be an NHL power forward and crash the net, bang in the corners and hammer defensemen. In 2004, Shane made it to an All-Star Game for the first time. Now he's back in 1999 ... and Price, his second cousin, just happens to be on the other side.

Knowing the history of this highly-competitive family, I wondered if Shane had already sent a warning shot out to Price to his Cup-wandering cousin.

"No I haven't warned him about wiring a high hard one at his head, if that's what you mean," Doan said with a mischievous smile on his face.

"Nothing would surprise me with Shane. He's a great guy. I always looked up to him when I was growing up. But I really do expect him to pull something out of his hat that's a little different if he had a great scoring chance against me," Price shot back. "Every year about this time they show that All-Star Game highlight of Owen Nolan pointing at Dominik Hasek (from the 1997 All-Star Game in San Jose) and then putting the puck right where he was pointing. I can see Shane trying something like that."

Not so, said Doan, adding, "I don't have those kinds of skills. I have to keep both hands on the stick at the same time."

Typical soft-peddling added Price, saying, "Shane's got better hands than he's letting on."

Do I hear a little bit of trash-talking? Well, sort of.

Said Doan, "All I know is Carey is 2-0 against the Coyotes ... but I've got goals in both games."

Feeling that another but was coming, I encourage Shane to continue, "And in the game he won this year, I broke up his shutout bid in the third period, which kind of ticked him off a little."

The Doans, Ellerbys and Prices have a history of hard-working, hotly-competitive, argumentative parties over the years. It's not as fabled as the Hatfields and McCoys or as bloody as the McCartys and Lemieuxs, but ...

That plaque we spoke of represents a series of hockey battles between the Doans and the Ellerbys.

"Every year on Boxing Day for about five or six years between 1988 and 1994, we'd have a family party that wound up on the ice," Doan recalled, with this vicious look on his face and lively memories to spare. "It would start out like a picnic. But then it would get pretty competitive when we took out our hostilities on the ice."

"I remember one year my cousin Darcy ran over my dad," Shane said with fire in his eyes. "I HAD to get back at him for that.

"Another year my uncle Cal was creamed. And I had to stand up for my teammate in that situation, too."

And that plaque? "It shows that the Ellerbys won most of those games," Shane said proudly.

Wait a minute, Shane. Don't you mean the Doans?

"No, back in 1988, I was only 12 and the Doans thought they were the greatest thing in hockey since Gordie Howe and Rocket Richard and they didn't want a kid on their team," Shane laughed. "The Ellerbys didn't have as many players as the Doans and my dad (whose wife is an Ellerby) said they would be glad to have me play for them.

"After a few years, the Doans wanted me to change sides and play for them. But I told them, 'No way. You had your chance.' "

Price was only four or five when he got his first taste of the family rivalry ... but only as a fan of those games.

"I always thought that Shane was always the best player," Price added. "Those games were hotly competitive. I remember a couple of games were real bloodbaths.

"The men in our family are not known for having soft hands -- not when they all were a bunch of farmers and ranchers."

I wondered if Shane Doan had ever thought about following in the footsteps of his uncles and being a rodeo star.

"Not me," he laughed. "They're all tougher than me. It takes a different breed to do that."

I think we'd all agree that Shane is a different breed as well -- great character, leader, hard to play against.

Shane Doan and his wife have a similar type of ranch in Phoenix. Call it Halkirk East, which doubles as a Christian camp for kids of all ages, where the youngsters come to ride horses, swim and do archery.

So you see, Shane has those same hard hands of a farmer or ranchers. But you see, the goals his parents set forth make him a true human being.

And 40 is not retirement age for Doan, who is four goals shy of 400 and 15 points shy of 1,000 for his career.

"The big thing that sticks out for me is probably his work ethic," said Coyotes rookie Max Domi. "I mean, he's out there right now taking one-timers, trying to get better, and he's been in the league for 20 years. That just shows how much he wants to help the team and how much he wants to be the best.

"Hes's a guy that I've kind of grown up idolizing and now to get to play with him, it's pretty sweet. To get a front-row seat to watch him make history is pretty sweet, too."

Home games on makeshift rinks made with spray from the volunteer fire department's hoses, leisurely rounds of golf with buddies, marbles --whatever it is, Doan is coming after you.

"You name the game, he wants to win," said Colorado Avalanche veteran Jarome Iginla, Doan’s teammate at Kamloops and Team Canada. "Any little game and he's very competitive at whatever we’re playing. I have to bow out when it’s wrestling, though. He likes to wrestle, too, but I have to bow out against him in that."

Hockey players are usually down-to-earth and hardworking, at least as the stereotype goes. Many come from small Canadian outposts, where failing to pull your weight isn't an option and the only way to make a name for yourself is the dirt-under-the-fingernail route.

Doan is the personification.

Growing up on a ranch was a blast because he got to play all the games like the other kids and didn’t have to abide by all the same rules. But running the Circle Square Ranch, one of several across Canada, wasn't just for fun, it was a business. Everyone in the family had to chip in, so Doan spent most of his days working in the barn, taking saddles on and off, leading rides around the ranch, then cleaning up at the end of the day.

Secret to his longevity?

"I really like to play," Shane Doan replied. "I mean, I'm going to play hockey when I'm done playing in this league -- I'll play somewhere else. It's fun to play. That's the biggest thing. I enjoy coming to the rink. If you enjoy the game, it makes it a lot easier."

You see, Shane Doan get's it.

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