-- Shane Doan
and the city of Winnipeg both have done considerable growing since April 1996.
When Doan last played hockey in this city for the original Winnipeg Jets
, he was a 19-year-old NHL rookie battling the attendant pressures of being a first-round selection with a club facing relocation. Doan played 74 games with the original Jets in that 1995-96 season, notching 7 goals, before the club moved to Phoenix.
"The connection between the two (organizations) is obviously there, and you can't deny that. You get excited about that. You get excited about people getting emotional about their team. The fans of Winnipeg love their Jets. They're going to be passionate about their team. They're not going to take kindly to anyone playing against them." -- Shane Doan
Doan needed some time to evolve into the franchise player he is now. He spent half a season in the American Hockey League at one point and did not break out until his fifth pro season, when he scored 26 goals for the 1999-2000 Coyotes. Doan's 1,142 NHL games lead the franchise, and he trails only Nicklas Lidstrom
and Martin Brodeur
among active players for the most games played with one team. Along the way, Doan also built a family and became a key public face for the Coyotes in the competitive Phoenix sports market.
Now Doan is one of the most-respected captains in the League, as well as a player who has scored 303 goals.
"First and foremost, he is our leader of our team," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett
said. "He is one of the best captains I've ever been around in the NHL. He leads through example. His personality on and off the ice are outstanding."
Of course, Winnipeg did some evolving of its own after the original Jets left town. The city now has the 15,004-seat MTS Centre, an improved economic picture, and after a 15-year wait, an NHL team of its own in the Jets, who have made themselves one of the biggest stories in hockey this season.
In the years since Doan left Winnipeg, the Coyotes have played three neutral-site preseason games there. Thursday's game, however, will mark the first regular-season appearance Doan will have made in the city since 1996 and the first time that he will be facing a team representing Winnipeg.
Doan wore a wide smile Thursday morning while speaking a group of media that surrounded him in the Phoenix dressing room after the Coyotes' morning skate. He has been keeping an eye on Winnipeg since the city re-entered the NHL fraternity this past summer.
Right Wing - PHX
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 16
SOG: 71 | +/-: -2
"The fans here are so passionate about their team," Doan said, "and you appreciate that as a player and love that. I'm sure that anybody that comes in here isn't going to be welcomed too much, and I'm sure we're no different.
"You come into the city and see how excited people are, and you appreciate it. It's hockey, and it's in Canada. It's special."
Doan came under some fire last season for what a segment of Winnipeg fans perceived to be his reluctance to play hockey in Winnipeg. It was his long-standing ties to Phoenix, Doan explained Thursday, that make him reluctant to leave Arizona, not any dislike of Winnipeg or its fans.
"I never once said a single disparaging word about Winnipeg," Doan said.
Of course, Doan realizes the Coyotes might be in for a rough reception from the passionate Winnipeg fans.
"The connection between the two (organizations) is obviously there, and you can't deny that," he said. "You get excited about that. You get excited about people getting emotional about their team. The fans of Winnipeg love their Jets. They're going to be passionate about their team. They're not going to take kindly to anyone playing against them."
But whatever reception he and the Coyotes receive, Doan only has respect for Winnipeg and its hockey fans.
"The city gave me a chance to play in the NHL and fulfill my dream," Doan said. "That's something that (one) should never forget."
Tippett is cognizant of the Doan-Winnipeg history and dynamic, and understands the sentiments Doan is feeling as he prepares for his regular-season return to the city.
"(But) once the puck drops," Tippett said, "he'll be like everyone else. Game on."