GLENDALE, Ariz. – 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 19-year-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 on 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 on 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 face off 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.
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