GLENDALE, Ariz. – Sipping lemonade in a rinkside restaurant as he watches his son skate, Shane Doan breaks into a smile that’s not so much a grin, but a rush up his face.
Starting with a jerk at the corner of his lips, Doan’s features contort upward in flash of fast-twitch facial muscles, cheeks jamming his eyes into squinty slits, the well-practiced lines fanning out like joyful tributaries.
Doan’s smile is always ready; when he talks about hockey, his childhood, his faith, riding horses, certainly his family, even when he’s disarming difficult questions.
OK, wait. Hold on, you’re thinking.
Captain of the Phoenix Coyotes, a player known for crushing opponents like a runaway big-rig on skates, turning their faces into Picassos on glass, and we’re talking about his smile?
Yes, as a matter of fact.
That always-sincere flash of teeth and cheeks has as much to do with who Doan is as a hip check or hat trick.
The man they call Doaner was supposed to be a cowboy.
He grew up in Halkirk, a hamlet in east-central Alberta that has about 100 residents, an oiled-down main street to go with the gravel roads, no gas station and little to do but ride horses and run around in the outdoors.
Doan grew up on a ranch and helped his parents run a Christian camp for kids, so he was immersed in the cowboy life for as long as he can remember.
He also has the ridin’-and-ropin’ lineage: five relatives are members of the Canadian Rodeo Hall of Fame, including his grandfather, Muff Doan.
And that name, Shane Doan, sounds like he should be chasing bad guys with John Wayne.
It just never fit.
Oh, he can ride and rope and all that, just not like he can skate and rip slapshots and smash bodies to the boards.
He even has a standard line about his choice of professions.
“What’s my joke about rodeo?” he asks his wife, Andrea, while giving her a nudge and a knowing grin. “I’m not tough enough, right?”
Tyson Nash was nine when he met Doan after he and his brother were dropped off at the Doans’ summer camp.
Nash and Doan had a great summer of riding and carousing around the ranch, but, as kids do, didn’t stay in touch.
They met again about eight years later, when Doan, nearly two years younger, joined Nash to play for the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League. They won a Memorial Cup together, but went their separate ways again. They ended up in the same place a third time in NHL, with the Coyotes, from 2003-06.
Each time they reunited, Nash still saw the same wholesome, honest, fun-loving kid he met at that camp amid the flatlands and coulees of Alberta.
“What’s remarkable about him is that he hasn’t changed … right now, he’s a big little kid,” Nash said. “Obviously, with all the accolades, all the money he’s made, the years in the NHL you would never know it. He’s one of those guys where it hasn’t gone to his head. What you see is what you get. I think a lot of people leave after talking to him and it’s like, there’s no way a guy can be that nice having the success he has had. He truly is.”
The Doans are all athletic. Start-their-own-team athletic.
Doan’s father, Bernie, was a defenceman picked by the St. Louis Blues in the 1971 NHL draft and his uncles were drafted as well. His younger sister, Leighann, set an Alberta provincial record in the shot put and went on to play professional basketball in Europe.
Doan’s cousin, Catriona LeMay Doan, competed in three Olympics as a speedskater, winning gold at the 2002 Games. Two other cousins, Carey Price and Keaton Ellerby, were first-round NHL draft picks.
Growing up in this kind of atmosphere, yeah, Doan was a little competitive.
It’s been evident throughout a 15-year NHL career that’s included eight playoff appearances,two NHL all-star games and countless body-bending checks.
And it doesn’t end there.
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 Calgary Flames captain 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.”
Doan doesn’t curse.
Never had a use for it, never lets a four-letter slip pass his lips.
Even in the heat of the moment on the ice, Doan sticks to his not-going-to-curse guns, bellowing out a variety of fricks and frigs that would make Yosemite Sam proud.
And, as you can imagine, the sound of “Fudge!” coming out of a shipping-container-sized man in a testosterone ring of ice is a big source of amusement for teammates and opponents alike.
“It’s comical. We always give it to him: Just say it once because the frig and the frick, you might as well go and say it. But he never stoops to our level,” Nash said. “Obviously, the heat of the moment, it doesn’t carry the same weight to tell a guy to fudge off.”
Doan won’t budge, either. The G rating is too important to him.
Part of it was that he never heard his father curse. Not once. Ever.
It’s more than that, though. It’s about faith and being a good Christian. About discipline, being able to set limits and sticking to them, no matter what anyone thinks or says.
“If you were to ever say that, where do you go when you’re really, really angry?” he said after breaking into a half-guffaw at the question. “If it’s something that just flows out of you, what do you do, add emphasis, do you it three times, do you say it four times, you know what I mean?”
Worst thing he’s ever said?
“I’m not saying it,” he says with a big laugh, his cheeks almost erasing any evidence of his eyes.
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.
The get-the-job-done approach is a big reason Doan has spent his entire career with one franchise despite having chances to leave and why he’s had the captain’s “C” on his chest the past seven seasons.
“It’s his approach to the game, both on and off the ice,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. “When he’s on the ice, it’s a combination of skill and physicality and determination that he brings to every practice and every game. And off the ice, the example that he sets, what it means to be a pro and how you treat people. Frankly, he’s a good person, yet at the end of the day, he realizes the game is about winning and competing.”
It’s one thing to have that kind of reputation within your organization; every captain has cachet at home.
Doan’s respect permeates beyond the desert, to the opponents he dumps on the ice, the coaches who try to stop him. He plays hard, but not dirty. He’s skilled and tough. He shakes hands after the game and actually means “Good game.”
Doan won the 2010 King Clancy Trophy, awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies leadership on and off the ice, and to many across the league, it was a long time coming.
“Even at training camp with Team Canada you could tell he was a real leader, a real positive guy,” said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, whose team is facing Doan and the Coyotes in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight season. “He’s a real good person. His teammates really like him. Plays the game hard, good pro, he’s good in their community. I don’t know what’s not to like about him.”
Doan was involved with a controversy for one of the few times in his life during the 2005-06 season, when a French-Canadian official accused him of using a racial slur on the ice.
His selection to the 2006 Canadian Olympic team was questioned, politicians derided him, lawsuits were filed.
Doan defended himself vehemently against the allegations, filing a lawsuit of his own, and not just to prove he didn’t use the slur. Because even the perception that he might have used it was against everything he’s about.
“I’d worked hard up to that point in my career through juniors and the NHL at establishing a reputation of being someone who’s honest and truthful, and this was something that was challenging all of that,” said Doan, who ended up getting his name cleared. “I’m not saying I haven’t made mistakes, but this was not true and I didn’t want that to be even thought about.”
Iginla remembers seeing Doan pull up in his car for the first time when they played together at Kamloops.
The car was packed to the brim with seemingly everything he owned, so Iginla figured Doan was in the process of moving in. Doan never emptied the car, which Iginla remembered when they were roommates with Team Canada at the Olympics and Doan still hadn’t cleaned up his act, so to speak.
“He literally looked like he lived out of his car and when I was roomies with him that hadn’t changed,” Iginla said. “I guess if there is a fault, the neatness is one.”
Doan understands that there’s an irony to his life and the way he lives it.
He’s a devout Christian, a regular in church, heavily involved in charitable work, someone one who put Romans 8:28 on his sticks in the NHL. He also has a job that requires him to manhandle people, jab them with sticks, hurtle them into walls.
It’s a tough balancing act, knocking someone on their backside and being the one to pick them up, one not everyone understands.
“It’s funny because sometimes at church, people question if you fight or do whatever, but realistically it’s part of the game, it’s part of being a hockey player,” Doan says after a confirming smile fades from his face. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a fight off the ice or anything like that, but you still have to stand up for yourself. It doesn’t mean that you’re just a pushover because you believe you can do anything.”
Doan’s belief is what allows him to be physical force and a spiritual one at the same time.
Bernie Doan used to make young Shane memorize Bible verses and there was one that always seemed to catch his attention: Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
Doan lives by that standard, believes in doing everything, as the Bible says, heartily.
He has the hands and moves of a skill player, but is most effective when he’s banging, sending players into the boards and to the ice with thunderous hits. So, in order to play hockey, do his job heartily, he HAS to knock players’ fillings out, HAS to stick up for himself and teammates, occasionally with his fists.
In a way, Doan wouldn’t be living the Christian life if he didn’t.
“It’s not an easy thing to perceived in that light,” Nash said. “I don’t think he likes it, to be a physical, head-banging hockey player, but he knows that’s all part of it.”
Doan is 34 now, a time when athletes start to become reflective.
Because of the way he plays, his body has taken a beating over his career, including a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the final four games against Detroit last season.
He’s still a wrecking-ball force on the ice—those forearm shivers and shoulder checks in Game 1 against the Red Wings on Wednesday are a testament—and still has the desire to finish the job, to get the Coyotes past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since moving to the desert 15 years ago. Doan also knows the end isn’t that far off, that he’s closer to riding off into the sunset to his ranch in Kamloops than he is the start of his career. And when the time finally comes, the player they call Doaner wants his legacy to be more than what he did on the ice.
“Not too often are you remembered for how good you are as a player, but what type of person you are,” Doan says. “Other than a very small group of people, it’s what you’re remembered for as a person than as a player and I think that’s most important.”
With that thought, almost on cue, Doan’s lunch arrives. He looks out the window with a contented smile to watch nine-year-old Josh Doan practice tip shots, then turns to his salad and digs in.