Shane Doan loves hockey. If you’ve been around the Arizona Coyotes for any amount of time, you know this is a hard fact. Interviewing the captain last week gave a little insight into how he has seen the youth hockey, and hockey market grow in the past 20 years and where it’s going.
Five For Howling: What was the hockey culture like when you first came in to the Valley in ‘96?
Shane Doan: It was different. The Roadrunners had been here so there was definitely a group of fans who knew the game, but it was a smaller group of fans. And there were a bunch of people from outside of the state that would come here for the winter that would be hockey fans. They all cheered for their team but we’re slowly picking away at that group as well.
FFH: When did you start to notice that more kids in the valley were starting to become more interested in hockey?
SD: I guess when the Ice Den got built and the program over there really started to take off. Oceanside had done a good job, but Oceanside and Arcadia were really the only two rinks for the most part in town.
When the Ice Den got built the program started to get rolling, we started to see the minor hockey starting to pick up with the availability for more ice. When my son started playing, that’s when I personally started to notice it.
FFH: Well you are a little distracted.
SD: *chuckles* Yeah.
FFH: What makes hockey in the desert so special now, with high-end prospects and Olympians like Lyndsey Fry and NWHLer Kaliya Johnson of the Connecticut Whale?
SD: It’s the ability for people to play, it gives them the opportunity to play. The grassroots have been growing and growing and I think there are some good coaches. A lot of NHL players have come back to the Valley. Guys who have had history with the game have come back to the Valley and really started to help. And the fact there are more sheets now. The more sheets that there become the better there is.
Having an NHL team is huge. Look at the teams and the cities that don’t have NHL teams and their minor hockey programs aren’t very strong as teams that do (have NHL teams close). It’s availability of being able to see an NHL Player, watching on TV begin about to see them going to the rink and seeing people. I’m at different rinks saying hi to fans, my teammates are at rinks saying hi to fans. I think it gives a validity to the fact that it can be done. And that’s huge.
FFH: Now that your son is playing competitively, do you feel like Arizona Hockey is starting to have a face so the people in Toronto will stop saying we don’t have hockey?
SD: *laughs* It’s funny, obviously Auston Matthews going there is huge. Toronto gets a lot of the attention hockey wise. We would have loved to have had Auston here, and it would have been special to have him here, as a homegrown boy. But it’s going to be fun for him to grow and become a player.
And for us, as hockey grows, it's fun. The Valley supported us through some really really lean times. We’ve been here for 20 years, which is longer than a lot of teams in the league have been in their cities. We’ve had success at times and struggled at times, but I think we’re going in the right direction and that’s exciting.
FFH: With Auston being with the Leafs and presumably in the opening night line-up, he started out as a fan of you and Danny Briere, as a Coyotes fan. Do you think that will start to be more of an influence on the younger hockey players here? Having that person they can look up to.
SD: No, for sure. Even though we have NHL players here, and there's people from here that live here now and have played in the NHL. It’s nice to have someone you can hang your hat on and say this kid is a guy we grew up here and played here and his minor hockey here, skated at the Ice Den and did all that. And went on to play in the NHL first overall.
We’ve had other guys that have been drafted and have played in the minors and pro in the NHL from here. With Cheeks [Editor's Note: We're not totally sure who this is, we will update once we find out], (Zac) Larraza, and uh ... trying to think of some of the other guys that… Austin Carroll. There’s some good hockey players that have come through here. JT Barnett that were all born and raised here. Matt, Matty Tkachuk was born here. So there’s starting to be a wave of young guys that were born here. Then there’s a group of kids that just got drafted and it’s exciting.
FFH: Yeah, one to Calgary. It’s very exciting.
SD: It’s coming, but at the same time it takes time. The NHL team has to get behind it and I think the NHL team is getting behind it and it’s going to make it a huge deal.
FFH: My final question: If you had the public forum to speak what would you say about Arizona hockey, it’s growth, and how important it is to you since you’ve been here since, well, day one?
SD: For me, I’m the biggest fan of this sport. I think that given the opportunity the kids that do play it, there is no better sport to play. It’s incredibly fun, it’s emotional, it’s intense, it’s beautiful, it’s fast, it’s skilled. It’s all the things you really what. It teaches you so much about character and all the things you want as a player. So all the wonderful amazing things you can say about the sport on top of it, in summer you can be in a nice cold rink instead of out in the heat.
FFH: Like when it’s 121*F outside!
SD: Yes! I enjoy that, taking my kids to the rink. And it’s growing. There’s good programs that have started up. The Ice Den is hosting Nationals coming up this year for U-14 and 15 which is huge. They’ve never ever done that before. For us to host that in Scottsdale at such an amazing rink, the Ice Den is huge.
It gives validity to our programs, the Junior Coyotes and the couples of programs that are doing very well and having success. I’m really excited about where it’s going and I want to continue to go that way. And I’m going everything I can to help them.
Shane Doan will always be the biggest fan of hockey you can find in the Valley. But he is also invested in helping the younger players succeed and that is a huge boost for hockey in the desert.
After 20 years in the Valley and 21 years in the league, he still loves the game as much as he first started playing it, and that is what will keep hockey alive in the desert.