GLENDALE, Ariz. — Of all the text messages Shane Doan received on Tuesday night after his record-tying goal against the Chicago Blackhawks, the funniest came from teammate Mike Smith.
“I got a text from one particular guy saying ‘I don’t know what we’re celebrating because you really haven’t done anything. You just tied somebody.'” said Doan, who later identified Smith as the wise guy. “That was funny.”
Smith is the only person who has managed to downplay Doan’s record-tying tally against the Blackhawks more than Doan. Humor and humility aside, it would be a perfect stroke of poetry if Doan were to break Dale Hawerchuk’s franchise mark for goals in a career (379) with one against the Winnipeg Jets on New Year’s Eve at Gila River Arena.
Winnipeg is where Doan’s career started 20 seasons ago as a fresh-faced rookie looking to make his mark in a man’s game. Winnipeg is where Doan made his first impressions on a litany of former teammates who can’t help but smile as they watch the irrepressible, “big kid at heart” keep chugging his way into the record books.
“I could just tell right away that Shane had great respect for the game as a young guy,” said NBC’s NHL analyst, Ed Olczyk, who was an 11-year NHL veteran with the Jets in 1995 when Doan broke into the league. “That really wasn’t the case with a lot of the guys that we had coming at that particular time, so that made a big impression on me. He wanted guidance and when you have that combination you’re going to get help from a lot of guys.”
Olczyk is one of a handful of players along with Keith Tkachuk, Teppo Numminen, Dave Manson, Darrin and Darryl Shannon who helped shepherd Doan through the early days of his NHL career. Doan spent many a night at the Olczyk house, working his way into the hearts of Ed’s wife, Diana, and his oldest two boys, Eddie Jr. and Nick.
“I remember him coming to the house and wrestling with the kids — playing shinny on his knees and sweating up a storm before Diana called us up for dinner,” Olczyk said. “Sometimes, we’ll be watching a game now and they’ll show a picture of Doaner and Diana will say, ‘Where has the time gone? I remember that young boy coming to our house and not leaving anything on his plate and always saying ‘thanks, Mrs. Olczyk.'”
Whenever talk has turned to Doan’s impending claim on two of Hawerchuk’s key records, the first thing Doan has noted is that it took him twice as many games to reach those marks. Doan has 379 goals and 915 points in 1,421 games; Hawerchuk had 379 goals and 929 points in a mere 713 games.
“Offensively, he was as good as there was other than maybe Wayne Gretzky at the time,” Doan said of Hawerchuk, who topped the 100-point barrier in six separate seasons. “I’ve said many times that I don’t think he got the recognition he deserved because he played at a time when the Edmonton Oilers were so good and had so many stars like Gretzky and (Mark) Messier and (Jari) Kurri and (Paul) Coffey. He was incredible and I loved watching him play.”
Doan has never been that prolific a point producer, but to Coyotes coach Dave Tippett the length of time required to achieve the marks doesn’t matter.
“He still did it; the number is still there,” Tippett said. “You can look at that the other way and say it’s incredible, his longevity. When you get those numbers, you’re doing something right; not just goal scoring but you have to have the ability to play that long.”
To Olczyk, the 20 years of NHL service may be more impressive than the stats.
“I played 16 seasons and I found at the end it was a real battle,” Olczyk said. “To play a couple years in this league at a high level is tough enough. To play 15 years; not a lot of guys can do that. When you talk about playing 20-plus years, now you’re talking about guys who have cemented their place in the sidewalk.”
As he entered the final year of his contract back in September, Doan said that his body and his production would tell him when it was time to retire. He doesn’t want to linger after his effectiveness has faded. It’s an opinion that Olczyk said underscores Doan’s respect for the game, but Doan has looked like anything but a player ready to retire.
In just 27 games (he missed nine with a groin injury), he has 11 goals and 17 points. In his last nine games, the historically slow-starting Doan has seven goals and nine points.
“The game is moving quicker and quicker, and he’s getting older and older. Those two usually don’t equate but you see how he’s played the last month since he got back from injury,” Tippett said. “He’s been a good player for us.”
With his records about to fall, Hawerchuk reached out to Doan on Wednesday to congratulate him and wish him well in breaking the goals mark against Winnipeg. Hawerchuk wanted to be in Glendale for the game on New Year’s Eve, but he coaches the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League and Barrie hosts Sudbury that night.
“When you play the game, you play hard, you compete and you want to win every night. If there are some records along the way, that’s great but it’s not why you’re there,” Hawerchuk said. “Now that it’s come to fruition for him, I’m so happy for Shane because he’s such a great guy and he has been a part of that franchise for so long. As a coach in juniors, you want your players to handle themselves the way Shane does.”
Jets at Coyotes
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona Plus
Radio: KTAR 92.3 FM
Injury Report: Coyotes — G Mike Smith (IR, abdominal surgery) and RW Joe Vitale (IR, concussion symptoms) are out. C Martin Hanzal (IR, lower body) and C Boyd Gordon (IR, upper body) are out but close to returning. Jets — C Mark Scheifele (IR, concussion) will make the trip but will not play. D Grant Clitsome (IR, back) and G Ondrej Pavelec (IR, knee) are also out.
Starting goalies: Coyotes — Louis Domingue. Jets — Connor Hellebuyck.
Scouting the Jets: Winnipeg has won two in a row but still sits in last place in the mighty Central Division where six of seven teams had more points than the Pacific Division’s No. 2 team entering play Wednesday. … Goalie Connor Hellebuyck has allowed one goal in his last two starts and owns a .932 save percentage this season. … F Blake Wheeler leads the team with 37 points (10 goals).