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Coyotes' Doan one goal shy of franchise record

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On Nov. 14, 1995, 19-year-old rookie Shane Doan was sitting on the bench in Winnipeg Arena during a game between his Jets and the Chicago Blackhawks.

Doan was 17 games and two periods into his NHL career, and seriously assessing whether he was in the right place.

"We were losing 4-2, and I was terrible," Doan said. "I remember sitting on the bench questioning if I could play (in the NHL). I had gone 17 games without a goal. Confidence was pretty low."

Doan jumped out for his next shift and suddenly was rushing up the ice all alone against two Chicago defensemen, future Hockey Hall of Fame member Chris Chelios and future U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Gary Suter.

Doan cut across the blue line and took a half-slap shot against the grain that hit the post behind another Hockey Hall of Fame member, goalie Ed Belfour, and caromed into the net.

"I wasn't very excited because we were still down 4-3 and there was only about five minutes left," Doan said. "But Teemu Selanne scored with 18 seconds left to tie the game."

Doan finished the game with his second NHL goal, in overtime, and his questions were answered once and for all.

"It was OK to get excited then," he said.

The Arizona Coyotes' longtime captain had the second hat trick of his NHL career Tuesday in a 7-5 loss to the Blackhawks that didn't allow for much celebration.

The third goal, meaningless in the game because Arizona was trailing by two with less than 30 seconds to play, was significant in other ways. It was the 379th of his NHL career, tying Hockey Hall of Fame member Dale Hawerchuk for the Jets/Coyotes franchise record.

On Thursday, fittingly against the reborn Winnipeg Jets, at Gila River Arena, where Hawerchuk's number hangs in the Ring of Honor, Doan has a chance to ring in the New Year with No. 380.

"It's a special thing because who Dale Hawerchuk is and what kind of player he was," Doan said. "But let's be honest: He got his 379 in half as many games (713). It took me a lot longer to catch up to him."

And that journey is one of perseverance and loyalty, one that has endeared him to Arizona sports fans like few others before him. Through ownership changes, roster turnovers and rebuilding efforts, Doan has remained the face of the Coyotes, always committed to the fans and the idea of hockey in the desert.

In an area with elite players like Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, and Paul Goldschmidt of Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks, it was Doan who received 70 percent of the vote in an Arizona Republic poll asking readers to identify the most popular sports figure.

"When I heard about it -- and my friends made sure I did hear about it -- my first thought was, 'Pretty humorous,'" Doan said. "I've taken a lot of ribbing. I've been around longer than most of them put together, and all of it here. I'm sure the longevity helps. I can tell you I would have picked those guys before me."

But the fans picked Doan. And everyone from the man who's coached him for six-plus seasons to the player who's record he's about to break understands why.

Mention how long it took for Doan to reach Hawerchuk's record, and Coyotes coach Dave Tippett scoffs.

"You can look at that the other way and talk about his incredible longevity," Tippett said. "To get those numbers, you have to do something right and play a long time. The number is there. He did it, and that speaks volumes."

Doan will play in his 1,422nd NHL game Thursday. That's 29th on the League's all-time list. By the end of January, if he stays healthy, Doan will be among the top 25. And if he can squeeze another season out at the age of 40, he will crack the top 15.

"The game is moving quicker and quicker, and Shane's getting older and older. Those two factors usually don't equate," Tippett said. "But when you see how he's played since coming back from injury (five goals and six points in the past four games), he's been a good player for us."

For Tippett, goal No. 379 was vintage Doan: Never giving up, even when the score and the odds are against you.

"It's an unbelievable sacrifice he makes and the leadership he shows that when a game is out of hand, he's not going to quit," Tippett said. "That's a great lesson for our guys in the lineup."

Hawerchuk won't be watching the Jets-Coyotes game Thursday. He coaches Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League, and they will be playing Sudbury while Doan goes for No. 380. But he's been watching and admiring Doan for two decades.

"When you play the game, you play hard, you compete and you want to win every night," Hawerchuk said. "If there are some records along the way, that's great, but it's not why you're there. Now that it's come to fruition for him, I'm so happy for Shane because he's such a great guy and he has been a part of that franchise for so long.

"As a coach in juniors, you want your players to handle themselves the way Shane does."

After Thursday, the Coyotes play three straight road games before beginning a seven-game homestand Jan. 9.

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