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Coyotes' Doan believes in Belanger

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Eric Belanger & Shane Doan in Phoenix (Getty Images).

Phoenix, AZ - Through 16 NHL seasons, he learned that there was more to the game than goals, assists, wins and losses. Mirroring the stitched letter on his game-night sweater, the veteran's world-renowned smile has provided substance to hockey's greater importance.

That's not to suggest that the wins don't matter and the points don't count, but Shane Doan, still grinning ear-to-ear with a beaming persona, is a true ambassador; his passion, unwavering, as the points between hockey and camaraderie are seamlessly intertwined.

"He came in and was a guy I got to play with quite a bit," Doan said about ex-teammate Eric Belanger, who notched 13 goals and 40 points with the Coyotes in 2010-11. "When you play with a guy, on the same line even, you spend a little bit more time talking and getting to know each other, so we got really close."

Growing up in Halkirk, AB, Doan's humble upbringing included bumps, scrapes, pain and early mornings as he milked cows on his parents' ranch; he learned to ride horses, too, which has allowed the 35-year-old to share special moments with the people that mean most to him.

"[Belanger's] kids started riding horses a little bit, so we used to go a barn and have some fun," Doan said. "Our kids and our wives loved each other, so it was one of those things that worked out really well. Everyone in this locker room loved him; he was a guy that everyone laughed and had a good time with, so it was impossible not to smile when he was around.

"The games happen so quick and everyone's got so much going on during the season, but he may end up coming down for the all-star break. This game is about the personalities and the people you get to know. He was a big part of last year's team and is missed in this locker room, because he's a great guy."

Belanger patrolled a line with Doan and Ray Whitney last season, which, as a veteran unit, helped guide the Coyotes to a second straight post-season appearance. The Oilers' No. 20 was a vital cog in that squad, both on the ice and in the locker room where he was a leader to the team's budding talent.

"We had an older group," Doan laughed. "Some guys thought we were like the Grumpy Old Men, but I don't know about that. We all sat together on the plane and he (Belanger) would always be laughing. He's got a very dry sense of humour that, once you get to know, you really appreciate."

Although the Coyotes have endured tough times with a plummeting bottom line and well below-average attendance numbers (9,397 took in last night's matchup at Arena), there isn't much to dislike about the Desert Dogs' home. Belanger's three-year, $5.25 million deal with the Oilers provided security, which is something not guaranteed with the Coyotes' future still undetermined.

"Glendale and the entire area is an amazing spot to be," Doan said. "The weather is obviously really nice and it allows you to have neat opportunities, like horse-back riding and other summer sports. I think that's indicative of the fact that the team gets closer, too. We've always had close groups here and that's because we're able to spend extra time bonding, both at the rink and away."

It was that environment, team-oriented or not, that stirred Doan's emotions in Game 4 of the Coyotes' post-season matchup against the Detroit Red Wings. At home at Arena, Phoenix was eliminated and it appeared as though the organization would not return for another season.

That wasn't the case in the end, but Doan did make a triumphant (and emotional) return to Winnipeg earlier this month in an old vs. new clash at the MTS Centre.

The reception was unlike anything he'd ever experienced.

"It was unique," he chuckled "They booed me right away and every time I touched the puck, and then they gave me an amazing standing ovation, which was something I never expected or dreamed of. It was an example of how passionate Winnipeg is about the Jets.

"That's their team and I was one of their players," Doan added, recalling his rookie season in which he recorded seven goals and 17 points in 1996-97. "Getting booed was interesting, but it was because we were the opponent and I can respect that; the passion and emotion is so special, and that's what it's all about. It was an amazing night."

Doan could never imagine he'd return to Winnipeg to play an NHL game, but it came under the most appropriate circumstance. While he appreciated his time there, he wanted to remain in Glendale where he'd established such an illustrious career, which includes over 1000 points and 1149 career games.

The situation isn't dissimilar from his buddy's either. Whether it's a struggling organization, a player's season or a game in which he was unable to rise, hope springs eternal; so long as you continue to work hard, believe in what's ahead and accept the challenge with the team's best interest in mind.

While Belanger has scored only one goal in 31 games this season, his friend and ex-teammate is there to support him along the way.

"He does so much more than scoring goals," Doan said. "He'll turn it around, I guarantee it. Everyone goes up and down throughout a season and he might go a little while without a goal, but he's a guy that plays big in big games and contributes when you need it."

It's that unrelenting support and camaraderie that makes the NHL what it is. With Shane Doan propping up as the league's most popular and well-spoken veteran ambassadors, the game is in good hands.

-- Ryan Dittrick, - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick


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