Teppo Numminen remembers the first time he saw the Winnipeg Jets' first-round draft choice from 1995 -- a baby-faced winger out of Halkirk, Alberta who was long on bullish strength but short on style.
"He was a little choppy on the ice and that stick handling needed a lot of work," Numminen said, laughing at his own flashback of the 19-year-old Shane Doan. "But his excitement for the game and his willingness to do whatever it took, that was there from the start. He made an impact right away and he just kept going."
Doan is still going strong at age 34. He's now the captain of the Phoenix Coyotes, the face and heartbeat of a long-struggling but now resurgent franchise in the desert.
One night after helping immensely to run his team's winning streak to eight-straight with a clutch, overtime goal in Tuesday's game in Philadelphia, Doan will pass Numminen -- one of his best friends in hockey -- to become the all-time leader in games played when the Coyotes go for nine-straight Wednesday night in Tampa Bay.
"I have so much respect for Teppo, the way that he carried himself as a person and as a player, the way he showed up every night playing through injuries and whatever came up to give his best every night," Doan said. "I remember being on the ice with him when he passed Thomas Steen for the all-time most games (in 2001), and being so happy and proud to be a part of it. And I know how much he respected Thomas too."
Numminen was grateful to Steen for helping him when he was a nervous rookie -- in North America for the first time, struggling with his game and a language barrier. And Doan remembers how much Numminen and his wife, Ann-Maarit, went out of their way for him when he arrived on the scene as a fresh-faced rookie some 15 years ago.
"They are first-class people and my wife (Andrea) and I are proud to call them friends," Doan said "This (record) is a passing of the torch and it will be very special. I'm glad it's coming while we're playing well and we're a first-place team."
Doan has done more than captain the Coyotes, he has helped keep the ship afloat since the team moved from Winnipeg in 1996.
With the financial stability of the team and their popularity in Arizona waning, Doan chose to ask for a "no-trade" clause in his last negotiations instead of requesting to be dealt to his native Canada or to a winning, more financially solvent team. Doan quickly became the face of a franchise in Arizona, sticking up for his adopted home and fighting for his team on and off the ice.
"Everything Shane has done for this organization both in Winnipeg and Phoenix has been top notch," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "He's a great leader, a great hockey player but even a better person. The ways that he's helped sell the game in Phoenix for so long, it's only fitting that he play in the most games."
Numminen felt for his friend last year when the Coyotes finally reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs after an eight-year absence -- only to see Doan go down with a separated shoulder and be forced to watch the final four games before Phoenix fell to Detroit in seven games.
"Now he's healthy and Phoenix is playing good hockey so I'm hoping he'll get another chance," said Numminen, who is currently doing some scouting for Team Finland.
It's been a trying personal year for Doan.
Injuries, scoring slumps and a suspension have all played a role in the journey thrfough the 2010-11 season. He's in danger of failing to reach 20 goals for the second-straight season after averaging 30 the previous four years. But winning has always been Doan's only measuring stick -- and the Coyotes are rolling. This is the latest into a season they have ever been a division leader.
"I've had good personal seasons in years when we were out of it by the All-Star Break, and winning games beats that without question," Doan said. "Breaking this record is special, but it will be a lot more special if we win the game because we want to keep it going."