Friday
Nov042011

"Love the game, and it will love you in return."

By Todd Walsh

Shane Doan doesn’t want me to tell this story. Sorry, Captain. 

The year has come to a close, and we have been bombarded with year-in-review columns and blogs and tweets and shows. Teams and individuals have been glorified. Moments that will stand the test of time were honored in their due time. And then the tone and tenor went into a tailspin, didn’t it? For every uplifting story of hope and courage and of performance and execution, there were what felt like a dozen other stories that seemed to be all about sexting or extra-marital affairs and the now near constant quest to put self in front of team and sport. Brett Favre, Tiger Woods and Randy Moss all used to be a joy to watch in their respective fields of competition. They were appointment television at its sporting best. Now, because of the instant news cycle and the glory of technology and social networking, the news of off the field exploits make me long for the days of Brian Bosworth and Neon Deion Sanders. So in my own measure of what we call counter programming I offer you the one and only Shane Doan. I don’t think he wants me to tell this story. Sorry, Captain. 

On Thursday morning I attended a funeral. It was a heart-breaking morning. I saw so many familiar faces in attendance. Hundreds of them, all with tears welling and flowing. That happens when you sit down to hear a eulogy for a 49-year-old mother of two. I was a little late getting to the service and was not shocked that I had to struggle to find a parking spot. Dede Wathey really was a fixture in the Phoenix broadcasting community, and her friends and peers were assembling in her memory on this wind-swept and chilly morning. Heaven was happy to have Dede, but Earth was lamenting her loss, and it was felt with clouds, rain, and even a little snow. I think she would have liked that. I first met her in 1988 when I arrived in Phoenix for a job at KTAR radio. It was an amazing time to be working there, as it seemed every step that the Valley was taking was being measured in some way at 620 on the AM dial. Dede was in sales. She was good at what she did. And she knew what she wanted and had every intention of getting it. She soon met her husband, Drew, and before long they started a wonderful family featuring their daughter, Lauren, and son, Kevin. Kevin Wathey is a high school hockey player at Horizon High School. Shane Doan hoped I wouldn’t go here. My apologies, Captain.

A year or so ago Dede was suffering from severe back pain. For most of us that might turn into a trip to the chiropractor or at best, a heating pad and if we were lucky, a back rub. For Dede, it was a death sentence. Pancreatic cancer. Stage IV. The prognosis was six months. She fought it head on. Her son, Kevin, however, did not originally know of the severity of his mother’s illness. Eventually, because of her grave condition, he found out. And, as you might expect from a teenager, it wasn’t a smooth landing. Here’s where Shane Doan comes into the equation. My friend, and Dede's close family friend, Jude LaCava of Fox 10, contacted me. He told me the heartbreaking story of Kevin and how, because of the anger and pain that he was in, was thinking of giving up his love, which was the game of hockey. Nobody seemed to be able to talk him out of it. I think he even left his team. Walked away. Could you really blame him? You are still in high school and you just found out that your mother had weeks to live. Nobody is equipped to handle that. Not then, not ever. Jude and his wife Jill, a life-long friend of Dede, were concerned because they knew Dede and Drew were concerned. Nobody wanted Kevin to give up or walk away from a sport that he cherished. Jude, the strongest person that I have met in this business and beyond, called while I was on my to a morning skate for the Coyotes. He asked if there might be any way to get in touch with Shane Doan and see if he might in some way reach out to Kevin. Jude thought that it might be the best way to get through to a deservedly frustrated young man. Shane really doesn’t want this story to be about him. And it isn’t. Not really. 

So, imagine sitting down with Doan after the skate, long after the rest of the media and after most of his teammates had left for the afternoon nap, and laying this story out in what I had hoped would be a very abbreviated version. Shane didn’t know Dede or Kevin, but he listened. And trust me, when Shane listens, he’s all in. There is a brightness to his face and his eyes when you are talking to him. It is, to me, the last great quality in mankind that is slowly eroding. I call it the art of listening. We talked about possibly just cold-calling Kevin, but I was worried that the call might fall on deaf ears or come at a bad time. Jude had given me a rough class schedule of Kevin’s, but it was sketchy and it didn’t fit with Doan’s game-day routine. So we decided to conduct a short interview, but it would be presented as a direct message to Kevin, about Kevin and for Kevin. Shane was very cautious. He didn’t want to overstep his boundary and asked repeatedly if this came with the parents blessing. He wanted to know if they wanted Kevin to get back to his high school hockey team. Or, as Shane reminded him in the mp3 file that was sent via e-mail, to get back to his family of hockey. Shane’s message was about not quitting and not starting a pattern of quitting. It’s entitled "Shaneforkevin" on my iTunes library and the total running time is 2 minutes and 14 seconds. It might as well say, Infinity, because it will last a lifetime. His last line of the first portion was love the game. I have learned on several occasions that if you love this game, it will love you in return, simply because of the people that are in it. I saved that file. I won’t ever delete it. I half thought about playing it on my radio pre-game show or even on our pre-game show on FOX Sports Arizona or even as a link here. But Shane didn’t want me to do that, or, as I have said here a few times already, he didn’t want me to tell this story. But here’s why I am telling it: A few days after the e-mail was sent I got a call from Jude that Kevin had indeed heard it. Then a week or so after that, I got an e-mail that in part said this: The Shane Doan message was huge. Kevin went out and scored a goal along with an assist in Sunday night’s High School All Star Game. I saved that e-mail and showed it to Shane on one of the Coyotes charter flights. He smiled, shook his head and thanked me for showing him. Thanked me? What’s wrong with this picture? He was moved. I could see it in those eyes. Did I tell you how uncomfortable he is at the thought of me even writing all this? 

A few days before Christmas I got another call from Jude regarding Dede. He told me that the doctors said that there was nothing else that they could do. She said to them to get her to Christmas, just once more, for her family. She fought, she held on and she made it. On December 26th, she passed. As I walked into her service, I noticed one high-school-age young man wearing what appeared to be a hockey sweater. At first, I thought how odd that looked and almost rolled my eyes. Then it dawned on me what I was seeing, because I began to see more and more of the same. Several young men, sitting near the family section up front, by their teammate and friend. This was a show of support, of solidarity, of community. This was a hockey team doing what teammates do for one and other, on the ice and off. This was what being in the family of hockey was all about.

Love the game. It was the message that Shane Doan had sent to a young man he had never met on a two-minute and 14-second mp3 file via e-mail. It sounds like a message that was received by an angry and sad and frustrated young man who was about to experience something that he should never have had to experience. I tell you this now because this is the kind of thing that I have seen Shane Doan do countless times over the years. This is the kind of thing that needs to be told during the year in review show or blog or tweet or post but that won’t ever be told because it doesn’t sizzle.

I told Shane that I wouldn’t tell this story.

I lied.

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