SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – When Keith Yandle arrived in 2005 at the Ice Den in Scottsdale to skate informally with the Coyotes for the first time, he quietly put his gear on and got on the ice.
Captain Shane Doan saw the fourth-round pick from afar, skated over in the middle of a drill and said hello. Doan had heard of Yandle through former Coyotes forward Keith Tkachuk, whose dad was a firefighter with Yandle’s grandfather. Doan told Yandle that he could help him with whatever he needed, including the use of a car.
“I don’t even think I had my license at that point,” Yandle said, adding: “I’ve never seen anybody treat people the way that he did.”
The story is familiar to those who have encountered Doan, a Coyotes legend who will have his jersey retired on Sunday by the one and only team he ever played for. The 21-season NHL veteran will most likely be remembered more as Shane Doan the person, rather than the player, and his warmth to those around him goes beyond just his teammates.
“He walks in the building and he’s saying hi to the security guy,” said Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet, who played with Doan from 1997 to 2000. “I bet you the security guys know him personally. To a guy ordering at a restaurant, or a waitress, he treats everybody like he does his family.”
And when he was asked on Wednesday about how he’s so widely-respected for being kind to everyone he meets, he interrupted the question.
“That’s because I wasn’t that good of a hockey player,” Doan quipped.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. Doan’s No. 19 will hang in the rafters at Gila River Arena, not just because he was a great hockey player or because he is a great person, but because both were true together.
“I think the numbers speak for themselves, obviously, but Shane’s just so much more than just numbers,” Coyotes CEO and president Ahron Cohen said. “He’s the complete package. He’s somebody that really makes time for every single person that he meets and he genuinely cares about his teammates, about people working in the organization, about fans, about people in the community. And that’s a rare breed, and certainly warrants having your jersey retired.”
Cohen and the team’s executive vice president of communications and broadcasting, Rich Nairn, sat down with Doan over lunch last spring to pitch him the idea of a jersey retirement. Doan accepted right away.
It’s safe to say that the honor is well-deserved, both because of what Doan did on the ice and what he still is doing off of it.
DROPPING THE GLOVES
There’s irony in the fact that a player so widely-revered for his friendliness and personality would be simultaneously remembered as someone who wasn’t afraid to fight.
“He treats everybody with respect and just a real good person to everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teammate or just a person walking down the street. So that’s who he is. But on the other side of that, he’s very competitive, too,” former coach Dave Tippett said. “He’s a very competitive guy.”
Doan had more than 40 fights in his career and famously had a rivalry with LA Kings forward Dustin Brown. One example of that is seen in the video below, when Doan hit Brown hard along the boards and then had to answer to Mike Richards for it.
“The thing that was most scary about him, the more mad he got, the bigger smile he got,” Yandle said. “You could tell he was really mad when he had a huge smile on his face. You just knew he was getting wound up about something. It was like ‘uh oh, someone’s in trouble here.’”
“You get on his bad side, it’s ugly,” said Coyotes forward Brad Richardson, who played with Doan in his last two seasons. “He’s got that farmer strength. He does have a mean streak. You can see that. When he gets mad, he’s mad. The funny thing is, though, when he gets mad, he doesn’t swear. It’s funny to see someone raging mad and go, ‘Frickin’ frick,’ or something.”
If you ask Doan about his two sides, he’ll just tell you that he fought people out of a strange sort of respect for them. As he puts it, if you’re willing to fight someone, you have enough respect for them to give them your time and attention.
“Hockey is a competitive game,” said Tippett (whom Doan said he can still hear yelling, “compete, compete, compete”). “He’s just playing the game. His competitive nature comes out. He has a will to win. That will to win will push him into things in the game that you do whatever you have to do to win or lead your team.”
THE PLAYOFF YEARS & DOAN’S CAPTAINCY
The captain thought for a moment when he was asked which year with the Coyotes was the most fun.
“The year we went to the conference finals is without a doubt the most enjoyable year as a whole when I look back on it,” he answered.
That was in 2012. The Phoenix Coyotes had made the playoffs two years in a row before that but were eliminated in the conference quarterfinals. Their third time around was their best go at a Stanley Cup.
Doan was a big reason why.
“There’s a few times in the season where we weren’t playing great hockey and he would take it upon himself to go close the door,” said Paul Bissonnette, former Coyotes forward and current radio analyst. “And [Tippett] was great, too, because Tipp knew after games, certain games, ‘I’ll let Doaner take care of this one.’ And Doaner wasn’t the most vocal leader, but when he spoke, guys listened.”
The Coyotes went 42-27-13, good for 97 points and first place in the Pacific Division.
“When you get into a hard playoff run like that, you really rely on your veteran players to make sure nothing gets too high and nothing gets too low,” Tippett said. “You’ve got to stay very focused on the task at hand. Shane was obviously the key guy in that. He does such an unbelievable job in the dressing room. He led by who he is as a person as well as what he does on the ice. That’s the best kind of captain and leader you can have.”
That year, Doan scored 22 goals with 28 assists for 50 points in 79 games. His goals were third-most on the team behind Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata, who had 24 and 35, respectively.
Bissonnette pointed to a moment two years prior to that to explain how Doan led on and off the ice.
“My first year with the Coyotes, there was a span of I think 15 to 20 games Doaner hadn’t scored a goal,” Bissonnette said. “And his role offensively had been limited, I think he got taken off the power play. And you didn’t hear a peep from Doaner about it. He was totally cool because the team was having success, and that was actually the first year that we made playoffs.”
THE LAST GAME
Doan’s final NHL game was on April 8, 2017 against the Minnesota Wild. After the game, he held a press conference, and when he was done, went around the room to shake hands with each reporter, saying “thank you.”
It was an unusual display of gratitude toward a group to which Doan had given his time and attention for a long time.
“The players make each other look better. That’s what your job is as a teammate,” Doan said. “My job is to make you look as good as you can, and if you’re doing the same thing back, we’re going to have success. But no one would really know who I am if the media didn’t portray me in a certain way.
“I’m pretty sure I was fighting back some tears as I walked around the room.”
Was that because he knew it would be his last game?
“I was pretty sure it was probably my last game but I hadn’t officially decided that it was going to be,” Doan said. “I thought I decided like five games before, like 100 percent that’s my last game. I was so frustrated in a game. And [team equipment manager] Stan [Wilson] and my wife talked me off of making any decisions.
“Usually every decision was bounced off my wife and then when I got to the arena, it was bounced off Stan.”
The game would be his last. He recorded an assist (the 570th of his career) and three shots on goal in 17:10 time on ice. He played against Martin Hanzal, his teammate for 10 years who was traded to the Wild in the middle of that season.
Doan finished his career as the Coyotes’ all-time franchise leader in goals (402), assists (570), points (972), games played (1,540), power play goals (128) and game-winning goals (69). He is 16th all-time in NHL history in games played.
“[Hockey is] so fun to watch,” Doan said. “I’ve loved the game the whole time. I don’t think I ever want to be an apologist of the game because I think it’s perfect and there’s not a lot to apologize for. But I think the game is amazing and if anyone ever actually gets the chance to play the game of hockey, it makes all the other sports kind of feel dull. And I’ve played them all, and I love every one of them.
“I love basketball and football and baseball and golf and everything – tennis – I don’t care what you’ve played, I love them all and I’ll play them all, but hockey is obviously my first love. It’s the most amazing sport and the best dressing room to be in, the best group of guys to be with, it’s amazing.”
Today, Doan works for the NHL’s hockey operations department under senior executive vice president Colin Campbell. He said he enjoys what he’s doing now and trying to help with the behind-the-scenes aspect of the game, something he’s learned a lot more about than he ever knew as a player.
As he spoke with media just days ahead of his jersey retirement ceremony on Wednesday, he stood in front of his old locker at the Ice Den. There’s still a part of him that misses playing.
“For sure. I mean you work your whole life to get the opportunity to get to the NHL and then you try to do everything in your life to try to stay in the NHL as long as you can,” he said. “So yeah, I miss that part of it, without a doubt. That being said, I’m absolutely loving what I’m getting to do after.”
The competition of the game and the camaraderie with other players is what he’ll miss most, he said, but the upside of retirement is getting to spend more time with his family. And yes, he still keeps up on the Coyotes, which he called “unbelievable” for their resilience in the playoff race.
Doan laughed when he was asked how much league has changed since he first broke in.
“Well, when I first broke in, not everyone wore helmets,” he said.
Several of Doan’s former teammates still play for the Coyotes. They carry with them some of the things Doan passed along to them:
“We’re pretty similar, I guess I try to play like him,” forward Christian Fischer said. “Obviously big power forward, he kind of started that whole power forward trend with him and Keith Tkachuk and those type of guys that were here, they had a big team.
“You watch Shane himself, he was never the most skilled guy or has the best hands or best shot, but the way he plays and creates space and protects the puck, that’s how he made a living. That’s how he’s probably going to go to the hall of fame doing that type of thing.”
“The first time I ever met him was at the Ice Den and it was a couple weeks before training camp,” forward Lawson Crouse said. “I came in and I was pretty nervous, I didn’t really know very many people other than the young guys that I’ve been playing with or playing against. It seemed like he knew everything about me before I even had the chance to talk to him and I thought that was pretty cool. Just from that first time, kind of […] in awe of the way that he carries himself.
“I feel like he’s the type of person where if he has a conversation with someone that he’s meeting for the first time, I feel like down the road in a couple years, he still remembers their name. That’s just the type of person he is. He’s one of a kind. That’s for sure.”
“I was lucky enough to be around him for two weeks when I first got called up after college. Just the nicest guy, made me feel welcome as soon as I walked in the room, he was the first guy that said something to me. That obviously really helped me and we’ve kept in touch along the years.
“This past All-Star weekend, he was there and was on my flight over there and I talked to him a little bit in the locker room over there. And then he was on my flight home, so I sat with him for about an hour before our flight and kind of talked, just talked about hockey. And he’s such a great player, a great human being off the ice. It’s going to be an incredible night for him and his family and to kind of look back to all the accomplishments he had and what he meant to this program and he kind of built it up for all of us.”
Doan continues to raise his family, which includes his 17-year-old son, Josh, who plays hockey and has NHL ambitions. Doan coaches hockey and works for the league, and the Coyotes motor onward with the foundation that their longtime captain helped put down.
Doan still very much believes that the franchise has a bright future in the Valley, despite speculation to the contrary.
“I think it has the potential to be a staple franchise in the NHL. I really do, and I’ve said it for years,” Doan said. “The city and the Valley will support you if you are able to put a winner on the ice. And the players love to be here. You have the advantage over so many places. The city itself is such a phenomenal place to live.”
He knows better than anyone. Doan was the cornerstone of the franchise when it went through its greatest turmoil, entering bankruptcy and being owned by the league. Yandle speculated that the team might not still be there if not for Doan.
“In all those years and the time we didn’t have an owner, Doaner was the guy to talk to [NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman, to talk to [deputy commissioner] Bill Daly,” Yandle said. “He was the guy making sure things were getting done the right way for us.”
Will Doan ever come back to the Coyotes in any sort of role? It’s hard to say.
For now, though, the next step is the jersey retirement ceremony.
“I try not to focus too much on the actual moments because it’s emotional and I’ve got my wife and kids on the ice,” Doan said. “It’s kind of, in a weird sense, your eulogy as a player. It’s something that, at the same time, I’m so excited to have everyone that’s kind of been with me since I was a kid and played with and different kind of areas of my life come together for that. That’s the part that I’m really excited about.”
Doan has earned the honor. Twice over.
“You don’t play in the league for 20 years for nothing,” Richardson said. “He’s a hell of a player, all-star, put up a ton of numbers. … He’s probably even a better guy than he was hockey player.”