It wasn't until Shane Doan was 12 years old that he abandoned any hope of pursuing a career as a cowboy and leaned toward the hockey arena instead. "I got too heavy to ride," he said, smiling, "but most of my family is in the Canadian Rodeo Hall of Fame."
Doan grew up on a farm in central Alberta where his dad ran a dude ranch for kids. But like his son, father was a hockey boy first. Bernie Doan was drafted 80th overall by the St. Louis Blues in 1971 and played two years of pro. He started with the Calgary Centennials of the WCHL in '70-'71, and the next year played in both the IHL and CHL before calling it quits and returning to the land in the Canadian Prairies.
"He was my coach for much of my childhood," Doan recalled yesterday after practise, "and he knows as much about the game as anyone I've ever been associated with. Obviously, I'm biased, but he understands the game and knows how to play it, so it's nice to know I can call him and ask about what I'm doing wrong and right and what I need to change. Even today if I'm struggling I'll talk to him."
Doan was drafted by Winnipeg in 1995 after winning a Memorial Cup with Kamloops, a lofty 7th overall, and it was a moment rife with irony. For starters, the draft was held in Edmonton that year, the home of his favourite team as a kid, the Oilers. However, he was drafted by the Jets, a team that lost to Edmonton almost every year in the playoffs during the 1980s.
Doan was just happy to be in the NHL, though, but when he made the team the next fall as an 18-year-old, it was odd in another way because everyone knew it was the Jets' last year in that city before moving to Phoenix in the U.S.. " I didn't have the attachment to the city that some of the guys did because I was just arriving," he explained. "For some, it was really tough to leave. Obviously, growing up in Western Canada I wanted to play there—it was a dream come true for me—and it was great to play in Edmonton and Calgary and Vancouver as well. That's what I always wanted."
Of course, being an Oilers fan means being a Gretzky fan, and when Doan entered the league he realized another dream by playing against the Great One. "I remember the first game I played against him. He was in L.A. and I remember trying to hit him one time and I missed him and lost a glove and a stick. Everyone tries to do that once and it never works. You kind of laugh about it and get to the bench and realize why no one ever hit him."
Time passes, and Doan stays with the team as it moves to Phoenix, and lo and behold that same unhittable Gretzky becomes owner of the team. "We see him around a little bit, but he has a lot going on. He's practised with us one or two times, but I think it's kind of intimidating for a coach to have him on the ice."
Although Doan has just completed his fourth straight year of scoring 20 goals or more, the Coyotes have not had much playoff success. He put on the Canadian sweater for the first time in 1999 when he played at the World Championships, and this year's GM Steve Tambellini invited him back since the Coyotes were again out of the Stanley Cup chase. "I think I bring a little bit of everything to the team," he began in analysing the reasons for being invited. "I try to contribute offensively. I help out on the forecheck, and on this ice you also have to be able to skate. I try to get the puck deep and control the play down low and work hard along the boards, which is probably my biggest asset."
Most important, Doan answered the call to play. "For a lot of guys with families it's a tough decision to come to the World Championships, but it was my wife who encouraged me the most. She's the one who said that in a few years you won't have opportunities like this and you'll wished you had played when you had the chance. It's an opportunity to play some more hockey, and I love to play. If she hadn't wanted me to go, I probably wouldn't have," the father of two said honestly.
Other than his father, Doan has another sporting relative in his family. The husband of Catriona LeMay Doan, world record holder and Olympics champion in speed skating for Canada, is the son of Doan's father's brother. "Obviously she's a great athlete, but as good as she is, she's an even better person," Shane enthused. "She's the best in the world at what she does, and to be able to say that in athletics is just incredible. I've seen her skate at the Oval (in Calgary) and she's amazing."
If you raced her…? "It's not even close! Don't go there! I would never even try it," he said, laughing. What if she had to wear hockey skates? "Then, maybe, I'd have a chance. Maybe!"