BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com writer
What are the odds of Shane Doan being recognized if he walked into any random supermarket around Phoenix at any point between 1996 and 2011? I’m not sure, he’s a big guy, but you could find plenty of 6-foot-2, 220-pound bros at your local gym. If you lined him up with Luis Gonzalez, Steve Nash, and Larry Fitzgerald, who do you think an average Arizona sports fan would gravitate to first?
Maybe at this point his popularity has increased incrementally, but over the past 15 years, given the amount of coverage the Phoenix Coyotes have received, I doubt Arizona fans have given Doan his proper due.
He’s the longest tenured professional athlete in Arizona sports today, and a last remaining member of the original Winnipeg Jets when they moved to downtown Phoenix in 1996, but I’m wondering how much he’s really appreciated overall. To give his time here some perspective, there are no current Expos with the Washington Nationals, and it’s been around seven years since that franchise moved from Montreal. You seldom get players to stick around in the same city for an extended period of time, and Doan has done it with the least popular franchise in Arizona.
How overshadowed has Doan been? Let’s think about the other three sports teams in Phoenix.
Heartbreak has come to define the Phoenix Coyotes in recent years. They have been plagued by ongoing ownership issues, tepid fan support and playoff disappointments. Just about when they seem ready to turn the page and start a new chapter in their history, they shut down the engine.
Well, its time to pick up the pen again as the Desert Dogs have advanced to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 4-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Six of their series, winning the set 4-2. They now face-off with the Nashville Predators, which eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in five games. The Coyotes series win was the first since the team moved from Winnipeg in 1996, the first time in franchise history since 1987.
This is a team devoid of top talent, relying heavily on their goaltending and team defensive structure. There are no Sidney Crosbys or Alex Ovechkins on this club. No Zdeno Charas or Shea Webers (who Phoenix will meet in the next series). No Henrik Lundqvists or Pekka Rinnes (another Predator). Nobody could’ve ever guessed that a team with Mike Smith as its net minder, 39-year-old Ray Whitney as its best offensive weapon and 20-year-old Oliver Ekman-Larsson leading the defensive corps would get to the playoffs, let alone win their division. But they did it, and have overachieved more than any team in the NHL this season.