On a sunny October day in Arizona, temperatures are reaching 90 degrees while in a frigid arena 18 miles west of Phoenix the Coyotes are taking the ice. Glendale may be an unlikely place for hockey to take hold, but if there's one man who knows this team, this market, it's their captain,
"I really do believe [the Coyotes] can survive here," he says. "But it takes us winning because if you don't win, there are just too many options here in the valley."
Aside from cloudless skies and dry desert heat, Doan has long been the lone constant in Phoenix. The 33-year-old winger, who broke into the NHL during the franchise's last year in Winnipeg (1995-96), has watched teammates and coaches come and go while ownership changed hands again and again. Things are considerably different since the NHL's first game in Phoenix (in which Doan scored his first goal as a Coyote), and yet through it all, the team's front office strategies have always included him.
"When we moved from Winnipeg, it was tough because the fans there were as devoted [to] hockey as ever," he says. "But even that year, when they knew we were moving, there weren't a lot of people there on a Tuesday night in the middle of the winter in Winnipeg.... Now, the end of the season, when we made the playoffs, I've never been in a building with more emotion and more passion for our game. But as an 18-year old, I didn't really appreciate it as much because I didn't have roots there. I feel now for the older guys that really wanted to keep it there because [they'd] been there, put in time there.
"I've put in time here; this is where we've laid stake," Doan continues. "You want the organization to continue even long after you're gone just because... it's part of what my career is. My career is going to involve the Phoenix Coyotes. Now, I don't want it to be over and done, where it's like, 'Oh, you played for who?' That's the last thing anybody wants."
Doan is a star with a taste for yeoman's work, grinding in the corners and doing his part in both ends of the ice in new coach
The early season success of goalie
"We have a very attentive group right now, what I call a very coachable group because they want the onus to be on the ice, not off of it," says Tippett, who joined the Coyotes late in training camp after
Still, Doan has done a lot of that, too, not because he feels he needs to, but because he wants to. In a way, knowing the ins and outs of the summer's courthouse news -- " I've learned a lot about what bankruptcy means and secured and unsecured creditors and all the different lingo that goes along with filing Chapter 11," he chuckles -- gives him a better perspective on the ice. The struggles of this franchise have turned from a cloud over the team's heads into a carrot.
"We can't just be an average team this year because ultimately, that's what's going to hurt this franchise, is us not being competitive," says forward
That's a familiar theme in these parts, this
Like every team, the Coyotes have tried to little avail. Since 2003-04, they've finished no better than fourth in the Pacific Division and well out of playoff contention. "I think they chased it," says general manager
Of the team's 10 first-round picks from 1996 to 2004, four are active NHLers --
"Last year had a major effect on us," Doan says. "A lot of guys were younger. We had four or five guys that were in their second year, and that second year is so tough when you realize how hard you worked your first year.... And then we had a bunch of rookies as well, and you know, 50 games into the year, the drain of it, daily being good is tough."
Doan promises that this is not the same team that imploded last season, one that won just three games in 30 days from the end of January through February.
"We didn't really have anybody that was able to pull us out of it," he says. "We needed that, and that's where leadership comes back to me. And it won't happen this year."
Perhaps not, but it still remains to be a seen if a hot team will be enough to bring Arizonans into the cold.
"Not too often do you have a legitimate claim to say that everything's stacked up against you, like legitimately say it," Doan says. "We're going to use it to galvanize this room."
The project came to the city after multiple attempts to build the Coyotes an arena in Scottsdale failed to move forward. (It should be noted that Scottsdale, an upscale suburb 40 minutes from Glendale, is still widely considered the Coyotes base. The players all live there, as do many of their fans.)
"I think everyone realizes that the city of Glendale stepped up and helped out with the building, for sure," Doan says. "Glendale stepped up and offered them what they could, and it was a much better deal for the ownership at the time, so that's what they did."
Certainly, it was a great deal for
"Clearly an issue is that the whole agreement with the city was structured at a time when both the ownership of the Westgate development was tied integrally to ownership and operation of the arena and the team," NHL deputy commissioner
The Coyotes have averaged just below 8,000 per game since selling out their home opener. Doan said he's never seen Jobing.com Arena as electric as it was that night. "Nothing would make me happier than having maybe 8 to 12 more of those at the end of the season," he says with a hopeful laugh.
The Coyotes, though, are trying creative marketing techniques to get more people into the building. They announced a new initiative, "Join the Pack," earlier this month, and a five-game "We Win, You Win" ticket promotion that promises a free ticket to a future game if the Coyotes win. In the first "We Win, You Win" game last Saturday, the Kings won.