GLENDALE, Ariz. – Shane Doan has gone through plenty of hardships in his 16 seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes.
He was there when the team moved from Winnipeg to the desert, the only player still around from those days. He endured numerous playoff disappointments, including that disheartening sweep by Detroit last season.
He played through the team’s ownership saga over the past three seasons, wondering if he would have to pick up his family and move.
Through it all, Doan never wavered in his commitment to the team, serving as its public face and voice, even when things went bad.
His reward: The most fulfilling season of his career.
With his first career hat trick during the regular season, the franchise’s first NHL division title and a trip to the second round of the playoffs for the first time, there might not be a happier person in the NHL right now than the Coyotes’ captain.
“When you get to the league and get to the playoffs, you always assume you’re going to get to the next round,” Doan said. “You start to realize that you don’t always get to do it, so when you do, it’s pretty special.”
This season has been a long time coming for Doan.
Born in Halkirk, Alta., the bruising-but-skilled forward was the seventh overall pick in the 1995 NHL draft, taken out of Kamloops by the Winnipeg Jets.
Doan got to play just one season in The Peg before the franchise rolled up its tents and headed to the desert. He went through some early post-season heartbreaks in Phoenix; a seven-game loss to Anaheim in 1997, the blown 3-1 lead to St. Louis two years later.
Doan also went through four fruitless years with Wayne Gretzky as coach and a swirling controversy while the team headed toward bankruptcy. Doan has endured three seasons of playing without an owner and wondering if he would have to move his family after making a comfortable home in Arizona.
There were more playoff disappointments along the way, too, perhaps the worst one a sweep by the Red Wings last season that extended the Coyotes’ winless streak in first-round series to 12 straight playoffs, the last seven in the desert.
Doan’s fortunes changed this season.
On Jan. 6, the player known as Doaner notched his first career hat trick in 1,161 games, scoring his third goal at the final horn against the New York Islanders before waiting out a video review to see if it would stand.
Despite rumours that he might be traded—he becomes a free agent after the season—Doan kept his head down as the Coyotes bounced back from a difficult first half of the season with a big run in March and won its final five games of the regular season to claim the Pacific Division, the first division title in 33 years as an NHL franchise.
The Coyotes struggled through a tense opening-round series against Chicago, fending off key injuries, suspensions and five overtime games to beat the Blackhawks. Phoenix capped the series with a flourish, beating the Blackhawks 4-0 in Game 6 on Monday night in Chicago for the franchise’s first playoff series victory 1987.
The victory earned the Coyotes a second-round matchup with the Nashville Predators, a series that starts Friday night in the desert.
And now that Doan has tasted playoff success, he wants more.
“Everyone always talks about if you get out of the first round, anything can happen,” Doan said. “Now we’ve got to find a way to win that next round and that’s really our next goal.”
As special as it was for Doan to get to the second round, those around him may have been more excited than he was.
Doan has been the consummate captain for the Coyotes, leading by example—he’s almost always the last player off the ice at practice, even optional skates—and by speaking up when it’s needed, either with words of encouragement or to light a spark under teammates.
Sure, he gets razzed all the time for Yosemite Sam-like bursts of anger—deeply religious, he doesn’t curse—and his aw-shucks nature, but everyone within the franchise respects him, the way he plays the game and the way he lives his life.
So when Doan flashed that face-engulfing smile after the win over the Blackhawks, the joy of accomplishment spread across the team.
“For a guy like Shane Doan to not get past the first round, that tells you how hard it is,” Coyotes goalie Mike Smith said after Game 6.
In typical Doan fashion, he didn’t celebrate the accomplishment long.
In the minutes after the game, he was already looking ahead to the next opponent and he’s spent the past two days looking for ways to get his team to not be satisfied with just getting to the second round.
“We’re going to need guys to go beyond what you expect of guys, that’s what the playoffs are all about,” Doan said after a team meeting on Wednesday.
Doan should know. He’s been to enough playoff games—just not ones this late in the season.