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Cunningham, Doan, Michalek make Coyotes’ season finale an emotional one

Craig Cunningham, center, the 26-year-old captain of the Tucson Roadrunners, the Arizona Coyotes' AHL affiliate, drops the puck between Coyotes team captain Shane Doan, left, and former Coyotes player and current Minnesota Wild player Martin Hanzal, right, during ceremonies prior to an NHL hockey game Saturday, April 8, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. Just five months ago Cunningham was fighting for his life after collapsing on the ice during pregame warmups. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes season finale was dripping with emotion from the moment Craig Cunningham took the ice for a ceremonial puck drop between Shane Doan and Martin Hanzal, to the point when Doan left the ice after hugging half the Minnesota Wild roster, thanking the fans and then tearing up in a postgame press conference as he discussed the impending loss of longtime teammate Zbynek Michalek.

Change is coming for the Coyotes this offseason, and if Doan retires, it will be dramatic change.

“Two weeks ago, there was no way I was retiring, five days ago, I definitely was, and two days ago I definitely wasn’t,” Doan said. “I love the game, I love to play and I want to keep playing, but I have also got to understand that sometimes things move on and it’s sometimes better to leave when people think you can still play.”

Doan admitted it was awkward to see so many fans holding signs that thanked him, and having the game officials and Minnesota players Hanzal, Devan Dubnyk, Ryan White, Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter and Eric Staal hedging their bets by saying goodbye in case he does leave.

Doan joked it was as if everyone was saying “maybe catch the hint, eh?”

Doan still has not set a timeline for his decision. He wants to talk it over with coach Dave Tippett, GM John Chayka and his family, and he will continue to train as if he is playing until he has decided otherwise.

Michalek also wants to keep playing, but the Coyotes do not plan to re-sign him and Michalek seemed to sense the end of his NHL career was at hand when he spoke to reporters after the game and admitted he had a hard time sleeping Friday night.

“I expected it was going to be pretty emotional and it was,” said Michalek, who had to pause for several moments to fight back the tears that were welling in his eyes. “I had a hard time getting it all together once the game started, but I just wanted to go out there and enjoy it and I think I did.

“It was fun playing in this building again in front of these fans and with these guys again, wearing this uniform. These are special moments that I will remember for the rest of my life. The whole career just flashes in front of my eyes; just how lucky I was to play for so long.”

Saturday’s love fest commenced when Doan waited at the bench door as the last few Coyotes skated off after warm-ups. Once they did, he raised his stick in a salute to the fans and they cheered him. Then he stopped to sign autographs from the tunnel and he stayed there for several minutes.

Doan had an assist on the Coyotes’ only goal of the game, he was named the game’s No. 1 star, he spent a long time chatting on the FOX Sports Arizona set and he brought his sons, Josh and Carson, into the postgame interview room.

Doan had all sorts of family in town, and they attended family-oriented events that made the weekend special on its own.

“Probably one of the best weekends of my life regardless of this,” Doan said, referring to the game. “To be able to have all of that happen, that was pretty special.”

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