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Playing follow the leader is working for Coyotes

Wednesday, 01.27.2010 / 12:20 PM / Hockey's Finest Presented by Army

By Phil Coffey - NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director

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Playing follow the leader is working for Coyotes
One of the big reasons why Phoenix is rising in the Western Conference is the players are following the lead of captain Shane Doan.
At first glance, you see Shane Doan's season stats -- 15 goals and 23 assists, tying him for 61st in the NHL in scoring -- and figure "What's to talk about?"

Actually, plenty and it was all on display Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings

The Phoenix Coyotes' captain took the penalty that led to the goal that appeared to give the Red Wings an insurance goal. But he also assisted on two late goals that forced overtime, then scored the winner 3:50 into OT to give the Coyotes a stunning 5-4 victory. Doan was in the penalty box when Detroit took a 4-2 lead on Nicklas Lidstrom's power-play goal with 4:38 left.

"You're feeling pretty small right then," Doan said. "You just want to crawl under the bench and hide."

But he and the Coyotes didn't quit.

With Darren Helm in the penalty box for hooking, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett pulled goaltenderIlya Bryzgalov to create a 6-on-4 skating advantage, and defensemanKeith Yandle scored with 90 seconds left to make it 4-3. With Bryzgalov again on the bench, Ed Jovanovski scored off a scramble with 22 seconds left, stunning the crowd at Joe Louis Arena and forcing overtime.

"We made a couple of mistakes early in the game that put us behind the 8-ball, but we found a way to dig ourselves out of it," Tippett said.

Doan won it when he picked up a rebound in front, got control as he skated across the crease and lifted the puck over goalie Jimmy Howard for the game-winner.

"I got to the net, there was a rebound," Doan said. "I kind of took it to the forehand and found a way to put it in."

Thus getting the job done. But that's something Doan's Coyotes' teammates are used to seeing.

"I remember my first summer, I went out to Phoenix to work out before training camp," teammate Keith Yandle said of the Coyotes' captain. "I knew who Shane was, the captain of the team and an All-Star player. I was kind of afraid to approach him, me a kid just out of high school, but he came up to me and introduced himself, asked me questions about myself, like what do my friends call me, and encouraged me. He did that every day all summer. I could tell he was a very genuine person.

"He's the captain because of the way he plays. That's No. 1. He shows up every day, every game, every shift and he works harder than anyone else. That's a challenge to every one of us. I watch him in games and ask myself, 'What do I have to do to get up to his level?'"

For Doan, it's all part of a being a captain, a position he takes very seriously.

"When someone new comes in, I try to make sure I give him good advice on who to talk to and where to go," Doan said. "It goes so far as pointing a guy in the right direction. If a guy is looking for a good place for his family, good neighborhood, schools, etc., we'll tell him here's an area we found that works. I try to go through everything a player might need away from the rink, because if a guy is comfortable off the ice, it will be reflected in his play on the ice."

It's easy to be a leader when things are going well. When adversity is in the air, as it was this summer with the Coyotes embroiled in bankruptcy hearings and facing an uncertain future, that is when Doan's commitment to team, teammates and fans was most apparent.

"You want to be an example with the way you carry yourself," Doan said. "I'm representing the Phoenix Coyotes, the NHL, and all hockey players who played before me. And you want to communicate that message to the younger players. When you ask the media, they'll say hockey players are the easiest to get along with -- and it's our job to continue that."

Now, take a look at the NHL standings. What do you see regarding Phoenix? Yep, there they are sporting a 29-18-5 record good for the fifth seed in the Western Conference and just one point behind the Vancouver Canucks. It wasn't long ago that this team was left for dead even before the puck dropped on the 2009-10 season.

You can credit the excellent coaching of Dave Tippett for the overall improvement or the solid play of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in keeping the Coyotes competitive. But equally important is the play of Shane Doan, who keeps it real.

"Shane is a player that everybody loves," said Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney, who during his playing career was Shane Doan before there was Shane Doan. "No issues, outstanding citizen, plays hard, blocks shots, sacrifices his body to win. He's been terrific for the years that I've been here.

"Shane is really the heartbeat of the team, and I believe (has) the longest tenure of anyone in the organization. I like the way he sets the tone on how to approach the game, his professionalism. He treats people with respect and he has a great work ethic. He's the last one off the ice at practice. He can be a brute, physical force."

And he can be the best recruiting tool the Coyotes have -- whether it's attracting players or fans.
 
"He's definitely made it an unbelievable experience," forward Peter Mueller said. "A lot of young guys coming into the program are a little nervous, but when you have guys like Shane, they've made it a lot easier for us coming in and playing right away. He's been in the League since he's 19, so he knows exactly what to do. He tells people what to do and people listen. When he talks, everyone listens. He's our leader, our captain. He knows what it takes to be a pro."

"I think it's really important to help out the new guys on the team. Maybe the most important thing you can do as a captain is make sure every player knows you appreciate him and what he does."

Again, Doan just sees it as another thing to help the team.

"If you're enjoying the game, you're more creative on the ice," Doan told NHL.com. "As captain, I'm just trying to make it so that you find things the guys like to do and you want to do it with them to make sure they're enjoying themselves and they're comfortable. For a young player, it's important to feel comfortable in the dressing room with the guys."
       
Doan has been with the Coyotes for 13 of his 14 NHL seasons. His rookie season was spent in Winnipeg, where the Coyotes were called the Jets prior to moving to Arizona.

"Shane is really the heartbeat of the team, and I believe the longest tenure of anyone in the organization. I like the way he sets the tone on how to approach the game, his professionalism. He treats people with respect and he has a great work ethic. He's the last one off the ice at practice. He can be a brute, physical force." -- Coyotes' General Manager Don Maloney

Named captain in 2003, Doan has lead Phoenix in scoring each season and has topped 20 goals and 50 points for nine-straight seasons. His 34 points this season also lead Phoenix in scoring.
 
"I wish I was scoring 30 goals a season," he said. "It's something you begin to appreciate when you've been in the League a while, but at the same time, we haven't really done much in the playoffs since I've been here. I'll take a lot more pride in scoring in the playoffs every year; that's something we strive for and should strive for."
 
Should the Coyotes make the playoffs this season, no one will be more excited than Doan, who says some postseason success could go a long way to cementing a future for the Coyotes in Phoenix. In the meantime, he'll keep using that personal touch to encourage his teammates to keep on keeping on toward the playoffs.
 
"As the years go by, I think it's getting easier for me because you start to understand the game more and just find ways to get comfortable," Doan said. "You begin to realize that you have time to do this and don't have time to do that. Going to practice and working on different things with one of the young guys is something I enjoy doing."

"If there's been a criticism of Shane, it's that he's tried to do too much," Maloney said. "We're bringing in more quality people and more skill and that should make his life easier. Shane is desperate to play on a winning team. He feels personally responsible to the Phoenix fans for the team's performance, but if there's anyone on the roster who has earned the right to challenge the performance of the front office, it's Shane.

"Watch him on the ice," Maloney said. "He plays one-on-one in practice with the younger guys. If there's anyone on the team that doesn't need to spend time with the power-skating coach, it's Shane, but he does. It drives me berserk to see Shane on the ice after practice and the 19- and 20-year-olds sitting in the dressing room. A young player should watch Shane and realize that this is what it takes to have a long NHL career.

"Shane has a loving and caring family around him, and he's a very nice man and a good person. But don't kid yourself -- he has a burning desire to make it happen here in the desert."

NHL.com staff writers Mike Morreale and John McGourty contributed to this report.
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