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Coyotes' Doan grew up selling chocolate-covered almonds to watch the Oilers

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers

Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club

- Growing up in the small, prairie-ensconced farming village of Halkirk, Alberta, Shane Doan and his parents, Bernie and Bernice, didn't have much in the way of disposable income.

Doan's mornings were spent milking cows on his parents' ranch well before sunrise. By day's end, he'd worked up to 12 hours and was content doing so despite the bumps, scrapes and sleep-deprived afternoons.

As much as Doan was a blue-collar farm boy (and proud of it), he was also an Oilers fan who wanted nothing more than the chance to watch his heroes up close and in person.

"I remember selling chocolate-covered almonds to come watch the Oilers play," said Doan. "It was a small town, so it wasn't easy, but I worked extremely hard. There were a couple times a year when people from the area came to our farm and I would really cash in then, usually selling to the same people over and over."

Doan, 36, never saw the Oilers play a playoff game, let alone win the Stanley Cup, but the honour of watching Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri was enough to create lasting memories.

"I think of (Rexall Place) as home," said Doan. "To come back to the building where I watched the Oilers play, where I came and watched in the stands and watched warm up down by the glass, it's cool. It's something that, as a kid, you don't forget. Because of that, I always have that that connection to the excitement of coming to this building."

"I was here when Neal Broten had an unbelievable game, scoring a hat trick for the Minnesota North Stars. It wasn't a highlight for the Oilers that night, but I remember thinking about how cool it would be to get a hat trick in the NHL.

"It was a pretty special moment. All those memories of being a kid, you're like, 'This is unbelievable.' I was a farm boy, so I didn't have any connections and didn't know anyone that could have given me a tour of the dressing room or given me the chance to meet the players, but that wasn't as important to me. Just being there and going down by the glass was a thrill in itself."

As it turned out, that was only the beginning. Rexall Place -- then the Edmonton Coliseum -- was the site of another highlight in 1995 when Doan was drafted sixth overall by the Winnipeg Jets.

"I remember so much of (the draft)," said Doan. "As long ago as it was, it seems like yesterday."

Today, 18 years later, the visiting dressing room is no more than 50 feet from where the stage would have been; and Doan, now a wily veteran of more than 1,200 NHL games, is the captain of the Phoenix Coyotes. He comes into Wednesday's game against the Oilers with 331 career goals and 812 points.

Twenty-four of them have been recorded this season, in one of the most unusual circumstances of his career.

"The hardest thing about the 48-game (season) is doing nothing -- and doing nothing for longer than you ever have before," said Doan, laughing at how the lockout-shortened campaign has made recovery more challenging. "Even if you get knocked out in April, you're still starting in September, you know?

"To be done in May and not start until January, it's a long time to go without playing. There was a stretch in the beginning where we were tired, but it's not too bad now."

Heading into 2012-13, the Coyotes made the post-season in each of the past three years, going deeper than they ever have with a 16-game run last spring. Still, by the time a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was signed, it had been 243 days -- nearly eight months -- between games in the desert.

And it showed. Phoenix got off to a 2-4-2 start and was playing catch-up from the get-go.

"You still go to the gym, you still go to the arena, you skate and do your thing," said Doan. "But all of a sudden, everything changes and you're gone for a week, you're home for three days and then you're gone again and not sleeping in the same time zone. Our bodies are in such a routine and to allow your body to get into a routine like that for eight months without playing, it was one of the harder parts of it."

Growing up on the farm with an early-morning wake-up call, you'd think Doan would be used to the heavy workload, condensed schedules and tight turnarounds.

"I know, right?" he laughed. "I must be getting old."

With nine games to play heading into Wednesday's action, Doan and the Coyotes sit 11th in the Western Conference, one point up on the Oilers. Making the playoffs won't be easy, but the assignment is one everyone is prepared for.

"There's no time to be tired. The race is on."

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