GLENDALE, Ariz. – Mikkel Boedker and Shane Doan have been linemates during these Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they have sat next to each other in the Phoenix Coyotes dressing room for a lot longer.
The 35-year-old Phoenix captain has served as a friend, mentor and confidant to the Danish speedster since he arrived to the NHL as an 18-year-old in 2008 – using his blazing speed to score 11 times with far less than a complete game on a team filled with fuzzy faces while learning life in the NHL the hard way.
Right Wing - PHX
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 5
SOG: 33 | +/-: 4
Boedker has become a huge cog in the Coyotes playoff push this season, scoring a pair of overtime goals and stepping in for the injured Lauri Korpikoski to play in a variety of situations. It is the culmination of hard work, perseverance and making the most of a two-year, 99-games stint with San Antonio of the American Hockey League.
But six games into the next season, new coach Dave Tippett and general manager Don Maloney – who decided players like Boedker, Kevin Porter Viktor Tikhonov and Kyle Turris had been rushed to the NHL too quickly – sent Boedker down to Texas.
The year before, he had been marketed as one of the "Young Guns" and the future was now. Now he was out of the NHL and it was a huge confidence blow.
Boedker remembers getting the news after a home game and crying in the player's lounge after his teammates had departed. That's when the captain quietly walked in, locked the door behind him and decided it was time for a heart-to-heart talk.
"Doaner told me that he knew it was tough to go down to the minors, but that he knew I was tougher," Boedker remembered. "He told me that just about everyone in the League had been right where I was then. It's a grind. It's tough, but it's something I could do and turn into an advantage. I was very young in the League and it helped me to grow up."
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Doan spoke from experience – because he was faced with a similar scenario more than a decade earlier.
In 1998, more than 30 games into his third NHL season, Doan was on the Coyotes' team bus in Miami after a game against the Florida Panthers when he was told to come off and to bring his stuff. After 159 NHL games, one game before he would have had to clear waivers to be sent down, then-Coyotes general manager Bobby Smith told Doan he was headed to AHL Springfield for the rest of the season.
Doan was devastated as he watched the team bus pull away from the arena toward the airport. With his clothes in one hand and his hockey equipment in the other, the 22-year-old stood outside the old Miami Arena – situated in a particularly run-down and dangerous part of town where attacks on sports fans were legendary – trying in vain to hail a cab.
"Right away, I had people coming up to me and asking me if they could carry my bag and stuff. It was a really bad situation," Doan said. "I will always be grateful to an arena worker who rolled back a razor-wire fence and said, 'What are you doing out there, man? Get in here!' I was pretty happy for the help."
He added, "You feel like you're all alone, and that's when it's hard to realize you are talented enough to overcome the adversity. When it happened to Boeds, I wanted him to know he wasn't alone, that he has world-class speed and talent and we'd be waiting for him when he worked his way back."
Doan went down to Springfield in 1998 and "spent the first nine or 10 games feeling sorry for myself" before he regrouped. Playing alongside friends and Falcon teammates like Danny Briere, Brad Isbister, Chad Kilger and Trevor Letowski – Doan collected 21 goals and 42 points in 39 games and returned to the Coyotes for the playoffs. That was more than 1,000 NHL games ago.
"We had a good team with good guys in Springfield and that helped me get back where I wanted to be. And in the end, it's part of my career, and I gained some confidence," Doan said.
For Boedker, it took the better part of two years to get back to the NHL for good. He struggled to score much of this year with the Coyotes – he had just two goals during a 42-game stretch from last December through March -- but scored in each of the final two games of the regular season and has kept it going. His seven playoff points rank second to Antoine Vermette on the team.
"The scariest part is that he's just starting to figure out how good he can be," Doan said. "When he takes over and wants to dominate a game, he's as good as there is. That's one of the things that's given us a chance in the playoffs – secondary scoring.
"He's a guy who can just open up the ice and when he demands the puck, it intimidates the defense because he's so fast. He makes teams work. They have to chase him and that opens up holes on the ice."
Boedker's confidence is bubbling over. His speed has given the Phoenix penalty kill an element of danger going the other way. The Coyotes now ice two legitimate scoring lines. And he knows his days in the minors are behind him.
"I'm happy for him because he's as good a person as he is a player," Doan said. "And he's quite a player."