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For Arizona Coyotes, Shane Doan epitomizes leadership

Coyotes captain Shane Doan is trying to enjoy playing instead of thinking about what could have been or what is next. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Even now, Arizona Coyotes captain Shane Doan shakes his head in disbelief, a sheepish grin spreading across the veteran's face at the memory.

It was last spring's annual gathering of the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Sedona, Arizona. Led by Senator John McCain, the lineup for a wide-ranging panel and group discussions on topics that included ISIS, medical breakthroughs and international human trafficking included a half-dozen senators from both sides of the American political spectrum, international ambassadors and heads of state, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, actress Demi Moore, four-star general and former head of the CIA David Patraeus and ... wait for it ... Shane Doan.

"It was honestly one of the coolest things I've ever experienced," Doan said.

"It was such a group of people that I don't associate with ever, but at the same time really, really enjoyed it. ... I was pretty excited to get the opportunity, but at the same time pretty nervous and probably had as much anxiety about speaking as I've ever had in my life."

McCain is a die-hard hockey and Coyotes fan, but it's clear that Doan's reputation as one of the great leaders in the game was also a factor in his invitation to discuss leadership through sport. From all reports, he was exceedingly well-received.

"It seemed so trivial -- anything [I] would have to say -- but at the same time they'd asked me, and so I was very honored to do it," Doan admitted.

And maybe that's why he was asked. He's a player who has always seemed to know what he was about and what it takes to bring out the best in others around him.

Part of his message to the group was that leadership is often about being true to one's self, being honest, straightforward.

What did he take back to the Coyotes' locker room after sharing his experiences with such an impressive group of individuals?

"It challenges you to be open-minded in your understanding of situations," Doan said. "Strengthens your belief in what you believe, but at the same time opens you to understanding the world's getting a lot smaller. So I guess in here you've got guys from Germany and Sweden and Czech and Finland and you have an understanding of people do things differently than you, so you may be a little bit more understanding than the 'Canadian' way."

Certainly Doan's invitation to talk about his experiences and the nature of leadership brings into sharper focus the reality of where the Halkirk, Alberta, native is at in his career, especially as it relates to his future with the only NHL franchise he's known since being selected by the Winnipeg Jets with the seventh overall draft pick in 1995.

Twenty years ago, Doan was attending his first NHL training camp with the Jets.

"What do I remember?" he said, thinking out loud. "I remember coming to the rink the first time and getting my jersey. That was unbelievable. I loved that jersey. That was a cool jersey, man. That's still, I think -- that's one of the nicest jerseys."

It brings back memories for Doan, who could have had no idea back in the fall of 1995 that he would move with the team after his rookie season and make his hockey home in the desert for the better part of two decades.

"When you walk into the room and you see your number hanging, and I was No. 21," said Doan, Shane who turned 39 on Oct. 10. "I was like, 'That's pretty cool,' and it was sitting there. It was pretty awesome. And then your camp -- I just remember all the guys were like men instead of being boys. I was like, 'Oh my goodness, these are men. These are men-men.' Kris King and Dave Manson. Teppo Numminen, meeting Teppo. Teemu Selanne was there.

"It was awesome. And it doesn't seem like that long ago," he added with a laugh.

But time has a way of sneaking up on you, doesn't it?

Now Doan is surrounded by similar fresh-faced, eager young men hoping to make their mark in the NHL, wondering what their own path will be like. And they look to Doan to help guide them, show them how to live the life.

There's Max Domi, 20, and Anthony Duclair, 20, and Tobias Rieder, 22, and Connor Murphy, 22.

A year ago, the Coyotes were among the NHL's worst teams, and a trip back to the playoffs this season seems to be on the long side of long shot.

Doan is in the final season of his contract and in the past there has been discussion about whether he'd be willing to or want to go somewhere else -- take a run at the Stanley Cup championship that has eluded him through almost 1,400 regular-season games.

To this point, he has resisted whatever urges there have been to try somewhere else.

If this is it, will there be regrets, remorse that he didn't pursue a different path as his career was winding down?

"I understand it would be easy to look at it and be like, 'Man, this could have been,'" Doan said.

"But I've never really tried to live that way. I've always tried to be -- I mean, they're all clichés -- but if you worry about that, then I'm going to miss what's going to happen next, and what happens next might be even better than what's happened back there, so let's not be so focused on what's happened back there that I miss what's happening right now."

What if players like Domi or Duclair or Jordan Martinook light it up this season?

"I might be on the first team that has three rookies score 50 goals. If I was worrying about what was going on [somewhere else], I'd miss the opportunity of that," Doan explained.

That said, when one reaches this stage of a career, it's also natural to wonder what is next -- where the road leads to or where, in fact, the road ends and another begins.

"I think it's impossible not to think about that. I don't care how long you've been there and how long you've been doing what you've been doing, I think everybody's always going to wonder," Doan acknowledged.

"What's that saying? If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans. We don't know what's going to happen. But you're always wondering about it. But at the same time, I think now that I'm older I don't need it to get here any faster than it's coming. I want to enjoy, I want to enjoy this training camp. I want to enjoy this exhibition game coming up if you're playing, because you understand that there's not -- there might not be as many ahead as I've gone through.

"You want to maybe keep that in perspective that this is pretty special and it's pretty awesome to get to do this, so I don't want to worry too much about what's going on next, then I miss what's happening right now."

So, does this mean we shouldn't ask him what he expects to be doing at the trade deadline in March?

He laughs again, an easy laugh.

"Nope," he said with a great smile. "We might be in first place."