The elevator approaches the fifth floor of Madison Square Garden carrying the past, present and future of the Arizona Coyotes: Shane Doan, Anthony Duclair and Max Domi. The revered teacher and his two brilliant young pupils.
At age 39, Doan is still captain, still the face of the franchise. The end of his career is coming before long, though. But for now the youth-laden Coyotes are in the playoff hunt—and they’re looking to Doan to get them there.
It’s all just an honor to lead, he says, all just his honor. There's no to-do list, no giant book of reminders, no executive planning meetings, just feel, intuition and experience. That’s how he’s led since the C was applied to his sweater in 2003. He focuses on being himself, puts the team first.
“Just keep getting better, every day,” Domi, 20, says of what he’s learned from Doan. Work hard. Domi watches and observes, sees what the captain does to get better, then replicates it.
That’s what Doan did as a kid in the league, starting when he was 19 and the franchise called Winnipeg its home. He watched guys like Teemu Selanne and Keith Tkachuk, guys like Eddie Olczyk and Darrin Shannon, watched their love for the game. One lesson he learned: Love the game and you’ll have more success. Do things the right way.
Now Doan applies his lessons when 20 guys look to him for guidance and answers. He stays steadfast when there are rumors swirling—the franchise is in trouble; someone is going be traded—as they always seem to be in Arizona. Most of the time, he ignored them, didn’t give them credence, just continued on his path and focused on the main business on the ice.
“For the most part, all the news [and] we’re still here and going along,” Doan says.
The teacher also remains a student. He acknowledges the line of captains that came before him, knows that he can’t let down the guys before him, can’t let down Teppo Numminen, Keith Tkachuk, Dale Hawerchuk and the others. He wears the C proudly on his chest because of all who wore it before him, not just in Arizona, but all over the league. It’s an honor, his youth coaches would tell him. It’s a responsibility, but it’s part of a glorious hockey tradition.
“You need to behave and act accordingly and that’s the tradition of our sport,” Doan says. “And [that’s] what I love about our sport. It’s held at such a high standard. If you’re not willing to do this, you’re not going to be captain. You don’t want to be the person that drops the ball and suddenly the prestige of the captain is tarnished.”
Doan is the elder statesmen now, the oldest on a team that has nine players who are 25 or younger. Not that he can’t keep up—he’s seventh on the Coyotes in scoring—but the team that has always been his is slowly changing its guard. It’s about Domi and Duclair, 20, of course, but there are promising youngsters everywhere. Mikkel Boedker, 25, is off to a good start. There’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson, 24, one of the best defenders in the game. There’s Tobias Rieder, 22, and Jordan Martinook, 23, and in juniors Dylan Strome, 18, is proving that he’s more than just Connor McDavid’s running mate. A little further up the age ladder, Martin Hanzal, 28, is having a career year.
There’s a solid core being built for a team that’s currently seventh in the Western Conference, and all Doan wants to do is contribute and help. He’s still fiercely competitive, his coach, Dave Tippett, says. He still wants to win. The desire is there, even if his days of 30-goal seasons are long gone. He’s still the first one to play video games, still thinks he’s a little kid.
It’s late on a Friday night and Doan apologizes to a reporter, saying he just couldn’t get away. Couldn’t break away from those who needed it. Couldn’t leave the IceDen in Scottsdale, not when there’s pizza and salad and lemonade and folks from the HopeKids charity who need a lift, who just want a picture and an autograph. He’s been involved with the organization forever, says Lisa Sweeney, the charity’s program manager. Always there for the 911 situations, when kids with traumatic, life-threatening illnesses need to think about something other than needles and tests. He’s there when families and siblings need to be reminded that there is a world outside of hospitals and waiting rooms.
Doan was there with his wife, Andrea, on this Friday night, taking kids up to the event area one-by-one, because he’s Shane Doan and a minute alone with him can bring a lifetime of smiles. But it’s not forced. It’s natural and he loves it, loves every minute of it, so much so that he stayed for two hours, even though he was only supposed to be there for one.
He makes everyone else around him passionate, Sweeney says. It’s easy to see why the entire Coyotes organization is heavily involved, donating ice and tickets but more importantly time.
That’s what former winger Tyson Nash first noticed when he was a 10-year-old kid shipped by his dad and older brother to Circle Square Ranch, a bible camp in Halkirk, Alberta, that was run by Doan’s parents. And it’s what he knew when he and Shane were roommates in Kamloops, where they won the Memorial Cup together. It was clear: Doan was something special.
And they stayed in touch, as Doan became a star and Nash, now 40, played for St. Louis for four seasons. When Nash, now a TV broadcaster for the Coyotes, was traded to Phoenix in 2003, it was Doan who first told him of the deal, not the Blues’ GM.
“When I look at Shane Doan, I often go ‘I want what he has,’” Nash says. “That’s a testament to someone who is living their life the right way.”
Doan is in some respects a walking cliché, but those around him swear he’s genuine. He’s the last one off the ice at practice. He makes sure to sign autographs for every waiting fan. He won’t stop talking to someone, even if his friends and family are waiting for him to go grab a bite to eat with them. “He’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever met,” Nash says.
Doan has options when he's done playing. Lay out on the dock by his lake house and watch his four kids swim and wakeboard. Ride horses, spend time in the barn. Do anything with the kids and he'll be happy. But he's not done playing yet. Not when he still plays well. Not when the kid Coyotes are jelling like this. Not when Domi and Duclair could become the Malkin and Crosby of the Southwest. He’ll take this group and teach it to win. Better yet, he'll teach it to lose and learn from defeat, teach his young teammates to rely on each other, to grow together.
Maybe there’ll be no Stanley Cup to hoist the way Ray Bourque finally did at the end of a long, distinguished career. Maybe time will creep up too fast but Shane Doan will take the Coyotes as far as he can, lay down the path and it will be theirs as much as his. And he'll stay understated, stay relaxed by the lake and all he will say is that it was an honor to wear the C, all just an honor.