When Shane Doan moved to Phoenix with the relocated Winnipeg Jets in 1996, he went from a Canadian-mad hockey city to a state with only three sheets of ice and fewer than 2,200 registered hockey players. The Coyotes' original home, America West Arena, was a state-of-the-art venue for the NBA's Phoenix Suns. NHL functionality was an afterthought: Nearly one-fourth of the seats had an obstructed view.
For the first two years, the Coyotes trained at a facility called Oceanside, which didn't even have a dressing room. What's more: Oceanside didn't have a gym, either. Doan and his teammates would take dumbbells from the training facility, pile them in the back of Bob Corkum's truck, and lift weights in the parking lot, with Corkum's car running and doors swung open, blasting music.
Doan was introduced to American hockey fans. "I learned that the Miracle on Ice was the greatest game of all time," the Canadian-born winger joked. But he also learned that even though the community at the time was small, it was passionate, and would grow, exponentially. There are now 10 rinks and 15 sheets of ice in Arizona; participation has more than tripled, including high school hockey and a flourishing Division I program at Arizona State. An Arizona-born boy who grew up with a Doan poster in his room went on to be a No. 1 overall NHL draft pick. (His name is Auston Matthews.)
Doan played 21 NHL seasons for the organization, and as the longtime captain, is singularly synonymous with Arizona hockey. He was a key part of the franchise's best seasons, like a 2012 trip to the Western Conference finals, and its lowest moments, like filing for bankruptcy. Doan also spanned generations; when he entered the league, Craig McTavish was still playing without a helmet. By the time he left, Matthews had put up 40 goals as a rookie, becoming the face of the Toronto Maple Leafs -- and, perhaps, American hockey.
On Sunday, Doan's No. 19 will become the first Arizona player's jersey to be retired by the team. Doan, now 42, has an ice rink named after him. Last year, he was a pallbearer at Sen. John McCain's funeral.
To understand why he is so beloved in Arizona, hear from his former teammates who saw him at every stage of his career:
Keith Tkachuk (1995-2001): "He was really young, only 18 years old, when he came to Winnipeg. He was a goofy kid. Always smiling. You just wanted to slap him in the face sometimes and wipe that smile off. We actually called him, 'Rube,' the catcher from 'Major League II' who was always happy. Once you got comfortable with him, you realized how incredible he was as a person who cared for and respected his teammates. He was just the perfect person; he never did anything wrong.
"He had a big, strong farmer's body. On the ice, he was a rough-and-tumble power forward, he'd hit, fight and do everything he could to help the team win. But when we were on the ice together -- especially the power play -- I hated it when he was taking one-timers. He never knew where they were going, and they went everywhere. I can't tell you how many times I threatened him."
Ray Whitney (2010-12): "He's one of the poorest losers I've ever been around. If you beat him in practice, a game of cards, usually the next day you feel it. But he's the nicest person. He won't curse. When I get mad, I throw F-bombs, I swear, I lose my mind. He does it in a much tamer way.
"We were in the preseason in L.A., and I crossed the puck, and he crossed under me, and the linesman called it offside. And [Doan] says, 'For fudge's sake!' Matt Greene turns and looks at Shane sand says, 'Did I just hear, for fudge's sake?' That's just him.
"When I got there [in 2010], they had made the playoffs after a long spell. They did the white out. The second year was the long run to the conference final. It was a good time, and it felt like hockey was doing really well there. But there were a lot of dry days there, to be honest with you. He decided to stick it out when times were tough, and that's a testament to his character.
"One of his best friends in the entire game is the trainer there, and that just shows how he respects everyone in the organization, no matter the level. People in Arizona, when they talk about hockey, they associate it with Shane Doan."
Mike Smith (2011-17): "I'll always remember that Matt Greene story. I think it was a TV timeout. Shane was always one to get on the refs or linesmen. If he was upset about something, he was going to let you know about it. I think it was offsides or icing or something that didn't mean much in the game, but Doaner blows everything out of proportion. I'll never forget Matt Greene saying, 'For fudge's sake? Did I just hear, for fudge's sake?'
"Obviously everyone knows the turmoil surrounding the ownership, with the league owning the Coyotes and the negative stuff that went on, but it says something about Shane that he never wavered. He never wanted to go anywhere else. Playing for one team in your entire career is pretty wild in sports these days.
"Being a captain is unique, and I'm not sure that anyone I've ever played with in the course of my career has handled the locker room, every personality in the locker room, quite like Shane did. He always knew what was going on with everyone, whether it was hockey, or in life. He knew when someone wasn't feeling well, had an injury they weren't telling anyone about, a family problem at home -- he knew it all, and he was there for you. That's hard to do, and hard to balance with your own performance. He was so easy to talk to. Anyone who meets Shane instantly feels like one of his best friends. He would almost put others in front of himself. If he wasn't playing up to his capabilities, he'd rather help someone.
"At the time [I got to Arizona], I bumped around a bit and hadn't really found a way, and having a leader I could talk to, like Shane, was a huge part in turning my career around."
Brendan Perlini (2016-17): "When I got called up [to the NHL for the first time in 2016], I was lucky because I played on a line with him. He was so far my best-ever linemate because he was so smart. Because he was at the end of his career, he realized that I had the legs. I would say to him, 'I'll do the skating, you make the plays.'
"This is the type of person he was: On the road, we'll land, and certain guys will go out with different friends they have in that city, do their own thing, or whatever. He always made a point: the second we land, we would get a text: 'Hey guys, I got a reservation at this restaurant, and whoever wants to come, come.' I always jumped at the opportunity to go. We went to some unbelievable places. One of the first times I went to one of these dinners was in L.A. I didn't really know what to expect, I was recently called up, and we went to this place, Mr. Chow. You know L.A., it was like paparazzi, all that. You got that whole vibe. We went to the back room and I walk in and I'm just like, 'S---, there's so-and-so, there's this actress, there's this singer, and we got one of the main tables. And not only that, but they're treating us like gods -- because of Doaner. I'm like, 'Wow, who is this guy?'
"It was tough last season, when he left, because he was always that focal guy, always the one linking everyone together. When he left, it was like, 'Who is stepping in?' It almost took three or four guys to fill that one spot.
"He assisted my first NHL goal, and I scored the last regular-season goal, and he assisted on that -- and that happened to be his last game. We lost, 3-1, and it was the only goal of the game. At the time, we didn't realize the significance of it. We didn't know if he'd be back or not; there were murmurs, but you didn't know."
Doan, his wife Andrea, and four children have settled in Phoenix. Last season, his first season not playing since 1995, he took a job with the NHL Department of Hockey Operations, working under Colin Campbell and Kay Whitmore. He travels to the outdoor games, All-Star game (including assisting in putting together the skills competition), GM meetings, and, as he says, "help out with anything I possibly can." He calls it an "unbelievable experience."
The secret to his longevity? "I honestly believe I lasted so long because I love the sport so much," he said. It sounds corny, but when he talks about hockey -- with unbridled, wholesome enthusiasm -- you're inclined to believe him.
"I'm the biggest hockey fan there is," Doan says. "And I got to be friends with the biggest hockey players in the world, and I think that's just the coolest thing."
Doan still plays in men's pickup leagues. He is helping coach one of his son's teams, and this past weekend he was on the bench for a tournament in Minnesota. Part of the reason he grew so fond of the Arizona hockey community was its authenticity.
"It's not a big deal to walk into a hockey rink in Arizona and see three or four NHL players just sitting around and talking," he says. "If you play hockey in Arizona, chances are you've played or had some connection to an NHL player, and there's not many other places where you can find that."