Past and fu­ture of Ari­zona hockey face off in desert

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Shane Doan has been a fran­chise cor­ner­stone since the Coyotes moved from Win­nipeg to Ari­zona in 1996, a sta­bi­liz­ing force through the good times and the bad.

Aus­ton Matthews grew up watch­ing the Coyotes, went on to be­come the first Ari­zo­nan to be drafted in the NHL and a bud­ding star with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Matthews re­turned to the desert Fri­day for his first NHL game in his home state, the same night Doan played his 1,500th ca­reer game and scored his 400th goal.

The fu­ture of hockey in Ari­zona and the an­chor of its past on the ice to­gether for the first and, quite pos­si­bly, last time. “It’s just so unique,” Matthews said. “The hockey com­mu­nity is so small here. It’s very tight. It’s def­i­nitely spe­cial play­ing here.”

Matthews went to his first Coyotes game at 3 and be­gan play­ing two years later. He played for the Jr. Coyotes and the Ari­zona Bob­cats, gen­er­at­ing na­tional buzz as he got older.

Matthews went on to join the U.S. Na­tional Team De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram and played pro­fes­sion­ally in Switzer­land, be­com­ing the ob­vi­ous choice for the Maple Leafs as the No. 1 over­all pick in the 2016 draft. He hasn’t dis­ap­pointed, be­com­ing the first player in mod­ern NHL his­tory to score four goals in his first game. The 19year-old has been good through­out his rookie sea­son, en­ter­ing Fri­day’s game tied for sixth in the league with 16 goals and nine as­sists.

“He has such a ma­tu­rity about him,” Doan said. “So much credit goes to him and his dad and his ad­vis­ers in telling him, just be who you are. He is and that’s what peo­ple love the most about him, and that’s what makes him suc­cess­ful.”

Doan is the rock of the Coyotes, the NHL’s long­est-tenured cap­tain and the fran­chise record holder in nearly ev­ery sta­tis­ti­cal cat­e­gory. He was the leader dur­ing Ari­zona’s play­off runs, the stand-up guy when the los­ing started and a staunch sup­porter of youth hockey in Ari­zona.

The 40-year-old right wing is a huge fan fa­vorite and was show­ered with cow­boy hats - he owns a ranch and loves rid­ing horses - in the fi­nal minute of warmups Fri­day night in honor of be­com­ing

the 17th NHL player to reach 1,500 games. He was mobbed by team­mates in the clos­ing minute of the sec­ond pe­riod af­ter scor­ing ca­reer goal No. 400.

“It speaks vol­umes about his com­mit­ment to team, or­ga­ni­za­tion, com­mu­nity and how good a player he’s been,” Coyotes coach Dave Tip­pett said. The con­nec­tion be­tween Doan and Matthews goes be­yond their meet­ing in the desert.

Doan helped cre­ate a hockey buzz in the Val­ley of the Sun with his hard-work­ing ways and gen­eros­ity with his time in the com­mu­nity. Matthews helped build it up even more, be­com­ing a lo­cal star as hockey gained a stronger foothold in the area. USA Hockey reached an all-time high for reg­is­tered hockey play­ers in 2015-16 with more than 7,600 skaters, thanks to Matthews and Doan. Sev­eral of them were in at­ten­dance Fri­day night wear­ing jer­seys of their new­est role model, Matthews. “It’s def­i­nitely pretty hum­bling to kind of be a role model for kids grow­ing up here in the Val­ley, so it’s pretty spe­cial,” Matthews said.

The pair faced off in Toronto ear­lier this sea­son and the Coyotes won in a shootout. Doan and Matthews took the open­ing face­off against each other Fri­day night, won by Ari­zona’s cap­tain.

But the fu­ture be­longs to Matthews. He’s one of the NHL’s top up-and-com­ing play­ers, at the start of what should be a long, pro­duc­tive ca­reer. Doan has been one of the league’s best cap­tains, but is near­ing the end of a 21-sea­son ca­reer. Even if he doesn’t re­tire af­ter this one, his time in the NHL is wind­ing to­ward the end.

And, on a night when the fu­ture and past of hockey in Ari­zona met, Doan got the mile­stones, but Matthews had an as­sist and his team won 4-1. — AP

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