Shane Doan was just a 19-year old rookie when the Winnipeg Jets 1.0 (R.I.P) played their final game in the city before moving to Phoenix to become the Coyotes.
Now, at age 35, Doan returns to Winnipeg tonight for his first meaningful hockey game since April 28, 1996 when the Jets were eliminated in five games from the Western Conference quarterfinals by the Detroit Red Wings. Doan has since played several preseason games in Winnipeg as a Coyote, with the last being in Sept. 2008 against the Calgary Flames, but this time it'll be different entering the building as the true visiting team.
What will the Winnipeg reaction be towards Phoenix, the city that took their Jets 15 years ago?
There is sure to be a bit more booing than usual when the visiting team steps onto the ice, but that will likely soon switch to cheers should the Winnipeg Jets 2.0 (R.I.P. Atlanta Thrashers) play a video tribute to Doan during an early television timeout.
As he enters what will sure to be an emotional MTS Centre on Thursday, even the Coyotes' captain is unsure of what the fans' reaction to him will be.
"I don't know how I'll be received," Doan told the Coyotes' website "...It won't be overly positive. It will be one of those things where we'll wait and see. They've got their team and they're very passionate about their own team so anybody that comes in (on another team) they're not going to be too excited about."
It was last November that Doan, responding to a question about the possibility of the Coyotes moving to Winnipeg, stirred a bit of controversy among Winnipeggers.
From Slam via QMI:
"You try to block it out as much as you can," Doan was saying. "It's interesting. I have four kids, and they're 11, eight, six and four. Their whole life has been in Phoenix. They see it and hear that they'd have to leave their friends — they're obviously upset.
"My wife and I are from Western Canada so it's not as big a deal for us. When you're a dad and you see your kids crying and you know they don't want to leave their friends and hockey teams ... it's so personal. It goes both ways for you."
That wasn't Shane Doan the 19-year rookie that left Winnipeg in 1996 talking. That was Shane Doan the family man, the husband and the father, who's now settled in Phoenix 15 years later.
The quote, of course, turned into "Doan is anti-Winnipeg", which the Phoenix captain had to clarify on Wednesday saying it wasn't a knock on the city and that he wouldn't want to leave any place he was playing and living in after spending so much time there.
And it's why Doan should be cheered on Thursday night as a loyal son. One who has spent his entire career through two cities with the same organization; one that has yet to get past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in his career. With what Doan brings the ice, he could have easily become a mercenary and forced a trade to a perennial contending team, but he's chosen family and community over glory by sticking with the Coyotes, even through these last few seasons where off-ice news became a distraction.
As Doan plays out the final year of his current contract, he told GM Don Maloney over the summer that once the team finalizes its ownership situation, he'll be ready to talk extension.
Until then, Doan remains part of the dying breed of athletes staying with one franchise. His loyalty alone should be enough to garner more cheers than boos from the Winnipeg faithful tonight.
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