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Why Coyotes' Shane Doan is riding tall in the saddle

This is where he belongs now, in a place where the living is easy and the hockey is hard. He and his wife reside in Scottsdale, a 5-iron shy of the DC Ranch Golf Course. His children were born in Arizona. His son Josh, who wears No. 19 and plays for the Junior Coyotes, skates at the same Scottsdale Ice Den where Shane Doan and his NHL teammates practise.

Skating with Josh Doan are the sons of Adrian Aucoin, Derek Morris and Michal Rozsival. Together, the four dads sit in the stands and applaud their boys without interruption or hassle. It's just – Doan pauses in search of the right word – "comfortable. It's where I've spent the most years of my life in one spot."

To have fought so vehemently to keep the cash-stricken Phoenix Coyotes alive, to admit he didn't want the franchise to move back to its place of origin, made some think of Doan as anti-Winnipeg, anti-Jet. "Why wouldn't he want to come full circle and end his NHL career where he got his first break?" the chatterers chirped. Has he forgotten where's come from?

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Saskatchewan-born, Alberta-bred, B.C.-trained, Doan is as Western Canadian as canola and cowboy boots. He can't forget where he came from because to do so would defy his DNA. He remembers what it was like to be 19 and playing in the NHL and admits that Saturday, when Phoenix plays host to Winnipeg for the first time in their twist-tied existence, there will be a tug at his heartstrings. "A surreal moment," he says, knowing that at 35 he is the last Coyote with a link to the original Jets. "It was the team that gave me the incredible opportunity to play my first NHL game. I don't take that lightly."

But neither should his attachment to the Coyotes be dismissed. As their long-standing captain, Doan has had to address family members, teammates, arena workers even parking attendants on the on-going saga that has been the team's quest for a new owner. Single-handedly, Doan has kept the flag flying, hopeful the Coyotes will stay where they are, where he feels comfortably at home.

"You look at Atlanta [whose Thrashers became the new Jets]and you're almost jealous. It's over and done with. We've had to deal with it for two, three years," Doan says. "Last year, the hardest part was the playoffs. We'd made it and we were playing Detroit and on the day of the game it was announced when we're beat out we're going to be moving. Instead of feeling that incredible excitement, it stole the joy out of what we'd accomplished.

"We battled along but it was not a good finish last year."

Naturally, the ownership question is still paramount for the Coyotes. Jerry Reinsdorf is back in the picture, along with newcomer Greg Jamison, and the need to make something happen quickly remains unchanged. Doan is aware of that but with the season under way he has developed "selective hearing. You don't want to hear it. You don't want to acknowledge it. For the most part it, it stays out of your thought process until you talk to family and friends."

And then?

"You try to be the eternal optimist."

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Doan's hopefulness is a powerful thing. New Coyote Raffi Torres, who had played against Doan for several seasons, said Doan's influence on his teammates is noticeable.

"I never knew Shane but I always admired the way he played and how hard he played," Torres explains. "The first couple of days here I felt this dressing room is the way it should be, fun and very upbeat. Shane has a lot to do with that."

Doan picked up a good many leadership skills from the veterans he played with in Winnipeg. Keith Tkachuk, Kris King, Dave Manson, Darryl Shannon were his guiding lights and looking back on that 1995-96 season, Doan has a greater appreciation for what the Jets' veterans were going through and how they handled it.

"I realize now how hard it must have been for the older guys I played with, how tough it was for them to move their families. As long as I got to play in the NHL I was excited."

Once in Phoenix, Doan came of age as a player. He and his wife Andrea, who met Doan when he was playing for the WHL's Kamloops Blazers, became part of the community and did charity work, investing themselves emotionally. They recently purchased five acres of land and a ranch, where they board and ride horses, a throwback to Doan's upbringing in Halkirk, Alta., where his parents still operate the Circle Square Ranch.

The irony in Doan's hockey life is that while he loves it in Arizona, he could end up moving anyway. He's in the last year of his contract and could become an unrestricted free agent next July. Or, if he and the Coyotes are unable to agree on a contract, he could be moved at the NHL trade deadline in February.

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"That's part of the game. You accept that," he says. "Don [Maloney, the GM]and Tip [Dave Tippett, the head coach]have talked to me. They've said, 'Let's get everything done when the new ownership is settled.' They're confident."

Until then, the eternal optimist will continue to carry the flag and relax with his teammates, sometimes while watching their sons play hockey. It's a good life, he says. He did the best with what he was dealt.

"Some people have made it sound like I didn't like the people in Winnipeg. That's not true," Doan emphatically says. "I'm happy they have a team. If the situation was reversed, and I'd been living there for 15 years, I wouldn't have wanted to leave. But I had no say in anything. I never asked to be traded. I never signed anywhere else. I always showed up.

"That's just the way it's been."

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