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Coyotes Fortunate to Have Doan to Mentor Prospects

by Matt McConnell / Arizona Coyotes
GLENDALE -- Shane Doan knows the drill.

All of it.

It’s September. That means training camp. This season’s version will be the captain’s 20th such soiree.

Arguably, it’s the most important of his career, and in ways that are often taken for granted.

It’s one thing for a sports organization to be rich in prospects, as is the case with the Coyotes these days. It’s another thing to have veterans in place to help bridge the gap and to bring the learning curve to an attainable goal.

With Doan, the Coyotes have it in spades.

Photo by Getty Images.
And considering the team’s transition to a younger lineup, veteran leadership will be paramount as the squad moves toward its future personality, thus enhancing the Alberta native’s role on the team.

If that’s even possible.

Doan understands the importance of his mentoring role because he was fortunate enough to have a group of veterans care about his development when he broke into the League. If you talk to the Coyotes captain, he’ll reel off NHL names from hockey’s past that guided him as a rookie with the Winnipeg Jets back in 1995. Good, solid hockey statesmen like Darrin and Darryl Shannon, Jeff Finley, Kris King and Dave Manson to name a few. Often, a rookie’s success can be traced to a few influential veterans that take upon themselves to teach the newbies hockey’s rights from wrongs.

“Eddie Olczyk really took it upon himself to help me out quite a bit,” Doan said. “He had played the most games of anyone on the team and had just won the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers. He would go out of his way to make sure I was enjoying my day and that I was comfortable. At the same time, he competed, worked hard and did the same things everyday that he’d done a thousand times before.”

In other words, Doan was afforded a front row seat that showcased the requirements of becoming a successful pro.

But like a lot of highly touted prospects, adversity set in for Doan during his third campaign with the franchise. It was the 1997-98 season and the former first rounder was struggling in the eyes of management. They decided to send him down to the Springfield in the American Hockey League.

Not for a weekend, but for close to half a season.

It was a wake-up call for the former first-round pick.

How did he react?

“I’m still upset about it,” he admitted after all of these years. Then he added, “there are times when things don’t go the way you want them to or they don’t go the way you think they should. You can sulk and pout and feel sorry for yourself and really not accomplish much, or you can take it as motivation and get better. I think that’s important to learn. It’s a sport that you love and you’re always going to try to get better.”

Classic Doaner.

It was his watershed moment, forever foreshadowing positive impact on Coyotes hopefuls that have followed through the years.

Since that fateful stretch in Springfield, he’s gone on to play 1,224 games, record 858 points while becoming the League’s longest tenured captain. His leadership is beyond reproach, as is its importance heading into one of the most pivotal seasons in franchise history.

No need to worry.

The captain’s got this one.

“You do what you think you can,” he said regarding a leadership role. “You do your job as good as you can and try to make the jobs around you easier for everybody else. When everyone pulls the same rope, it makes it a lot easier.”

Rookie Max Domi has taken notice and feels as if he’s already benefited from being around the dressing room and in the presence of the captain. He watches, observes and learns on the fly.

Wise move.

Photo by Norm Hall.
“He’s a guy that knows what it takes to stay in the League and be successful in the League,” he said. “We’re all looking forward to the opportunity. It’s a huge challenge but it’s exciting for sure.

“You can talk to him about whatever. And since he’s such a down to earth and humble person, you can learn from that too.”

As Doan’s personality, experience and leadership traits continue to influence players in the room that are half his age, his influence has a lasting effect on all.

Consider defenseman Connor Murphy’s story.

While playing for Team USA in the World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia during the 2012-13 season, he sustained a knee injury during the gold medal winning game that knocked him out for the rest of the year.

After the tournament, the team flew Murphy to Arizona for a consultation with the medical staff which also allowed him an opportunity to watch the team play a couple of times. After one of those games, Murphy was walking through the team’s gym on the way to see the doctors when Doan spotted him out of the corner of his eye.

“Doaner was on the other side of the gym when he saw me, “Murphy recalled. “He came over and pulled me aside and introduced himself and told me how he had heard about me and how he looked forward to the future. It just speaks to his character. He puts everyone ahead of himself and he knows how hard it is at times for young guys to feel like they fit in. Right from day one, he’s the first guy that’s going to say hi and care about your story.”

Photo by Norm Hall.
It was a small gesture that has had a lasting impact.

Yet one of the captain’s greatest leadership traits is his reluctance to even admit it’s something out of the ordinary. It’s evident as soon as you broach the topic with him.

“When it all comes down to it, the scoring, the games played and your stats, it really doesn’t last that long. But who you are and the type of person you are, it seems to last a lot longer. If the first thing you say about someone is, ‘that’s a good man’ or ‘he’s a good guy, you would have liked him’, that seems to be more of what matters.

“I want to win as badly as anyone. But being here and having a big part in the organization for years, you want to leave an impression. The type of person you are is way more important.”

Just like Olczyk did for a young rookie back in the day.
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