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An embattled team captain gets some protection Add to ...

They laugh now, the way all parents do when thinking back to the days when their children were small and getting into trouble. But back then, when Shane Doan was no more than six years old and easily swayed, it didn't seem quite so funny.

He had been told not to go out onto the ice that covered the reservoir on the family ranch. It was early winter. The ice was thin.

Coerced by an older boy to try it, young Shane wandered out onto the creaking ice. His parents were not impressed.

"I told him he needed to respect us and what was said to him," Bernie Doan recalled. "The funny thing is I almost drowned there as a kid. I fell into a creek on the property. I fell under the ice and my dad pulled me out."

"Shane got a spanking for that one," Bernice Doan said.

Those who only know of Mr. Doan as the National Hockey League player accused of uttering a slur toward a French-Canadian referee are now hearing from the many rushing to his defence. The supporters are insisting Mr. Doan couldn't have made a derogatory remark, because that's not who he is, how he was raised or how he has handled himself through 11 National Hockey League seasons.

"For Shane to have said that ['Fucking French. Did a good job'] that's not in him," Bernie Doan said. "It's just not there."

This is what is there; Mr. Doan's story of how he got to be a strong-willed hockey player who often inscribes his sticks with 29:11, a biblical passage from Jeremiah that reads: "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."

It begins with the father.

Bernie Doan was a St. Louis Blues draft pick from Halkirk, Alta., a ranching community northeast of Calgary. His father Muff and brother Phil had both been winners at the Calgary Stampede rodeo. Athleticism and hard work were Doan trademarks, but Bernie's love for hockey was waning.

While playing for the Kansas City Blues of the Central League, Bernie prayed for direction. He asked God if his life should take a different direction. Within days, Mr. Doan said he lost all desire for hockey. He enrolled in a Bible college in Saskatchewan, where he met Bernice, who had grown up not far from Halkirk.

Bernice shared the same values as Bernie and the two were soon married. Bernie Doan dabbled in construction and was called to work on a ranch in Halkirk.

The ranch was to be a Christian home for needy children. Mr. Doan was surprised to learn it was being constructed on the 160 acres that had once belonged to his father, the same land that surrounded the creek in which he had almost drowned.

"I came to help start building the camp," Mr. Doan said. "Later, I became a ranch director. ... We've been there 30 years."

Shane grew up on the ranch with a sister, brother and dozens of other children, some of different ethnicity. He rode horses, played basketball, loved hockey. At the age of 15, he left home to play for the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League.

Tom Renney, now the coach of the New York Rangers, remembered the first time he saw Mr. Doan in Kamloops.

"Shane was skating back and forth between the bluelines and just had his head down," Mr. Renney said. "I asked, 'Doaner, what the heck are you doing?' He said, 'Mr. Renney, I never thought I'd see this Blazer logo going under my feet.' That's when you knew you had a kid with the passion to be a good player."

Mr. Doan has a zest for life and sport. As a player, he has become a consistent high-level performer, one who can score, hit and fight.

He is comfortable saying fighting is simply part of the game and that it doesn't clash with his Christian beliefs.

"God made me the way I am. He gave me intensity, passion and desire and for me to try and not have that is wrong," Mr. Doan recently told The Globe and Mail. "Life to me is to have fun and play hockey, be intense and when I'm on the ice to run people over."

Most hockey players do charity work and Mr. Doan does his share. He just doesn't talk about it.

During the last week of the 2006-07 NHL regular season, Mr. Doan arranged for more than 200 homeless children to come by bus to the Phoenix Coyotes practice rink and skate with him. He paid for everything - transportation, ice time, skate rentals and the pizza party that followed. Then he arranged for 600 kids and parents to attend a Coyotes game. He paid for the tickets and told the team's public relations staff not to say a word to the media.

"I've known Shane a long time," said Ottawa Senators forward Mike Fisher, who has played with and against him. "And [making a cultural slur]sounds like something completely out of character for him."

The supporters say what is in character is Mr. Doan offering to give up the captaincy to protect Hockey Canada and his teammates from any further abuse.

Hockey Canada denounced that option. It said the best man was already wearing the C on his jersey.

Follow on Twitter: @AllanMaki

 

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