Best Sports Nice Guy 2013 | Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes | Sports & Recreation | Phoenix

Shane Doan tends to toss hockey pucks over the glass to adoring fans before home games. The Phoenix Coyotes forward has stuck fast with the troubled franchise when he could have bolted for more secure pastures. Last year, he won the Mark Messier Award for leadership among teammates, during games, and in the community. His charity work in the Valley's legendary. It's hard to glance at TV sports without seeing him around town helping kids, donating his time. He's a hell of a hockey player, too. Last season, the Coyotes faded from playoff contention during the second half of the season, but Doan was a major reason they had made a run the season before, losing to the L.A. Kings in the Western Conference finals. The Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup. Doan's been around since the beginning of the Yotes franchise, which started 18 years ago as the Winnipeg Jets. An Alberta native, Doan's won two gold medals in world championships and was a member of Canada's Olympic team. Doan lives year-round in Phoenix and routinely expresses his love for the Valley. A "Wild Westerner" at heart (he grew up in Canadian cowboy country), he feels right at home on horseback galloping through the desert. And now that the Coyotes are assured of staying in Glendale for at least five more years, Doan, who'll be 37 in October, could finish his playing career here. If the Coyotes are smart, they'll keep him around as long as he wants and then move him into coaching. Intelligence/leadership skills like his are hard to come by in a game where players get concussed for a living.

Let's face it, 6-foot-4, 220-pound Mike Smith was the main reason the Phoenix Coyotes made it to the NHL's Western Conference Finals two years ago. Which is why it was good to see the team give him what he deserved — a six-year, $34 million contract. To lose Smith, near the top of the goalie class in the NHL, would've been devastating to a team whose front-office woes have bled onto the ice. So, finally, the team got a respite with a guarantee of staying at least five more years in Glendale, and the Kingston, Ontario, native will be here through that time. Like Smith, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett is great at what he does, and Smith has said Tippet's presence helped seal the deal for him in the desert. Without Tippett, Smith might have tried his luck on the open market, where many teams were interested. Goalie, despite the fearsome masks, isn't a flashy position on a hockey team. You don't grow up hoping to stand in front of the goal and have guys slamming pucks at you. The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, was in the business of making goals. Scorrrrre! And that's what kids skating on frozen ponds far from here want to do, too. When you notice a team's goalie is when he fucks up, which rarely happens to Smith. The stopper with one of the widest wingspans in the league has a save percentage of .913 — and a goal-against average of 2.56 in 263 career regular-season contests. Add to that 24 shutouts, and you have a crucial piece of the puzzle if the Yotes are to return to the playoffs and (now that they're not worrying about the franchise bolting) go deep.

The Phoenix Suns are rebuilding after the almost-heady days of Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire. We mean, despite his two MVPs, Nash never brought us a trophy. Neither did Charles Barkley back in his day, though he came closer. Then came last season, when the Suns without Nash (Amar'e was long gone) were nowhere close to contention. In fact, they were the worst team in the NBA's Western Conference. So because of this new low in suckage, we're heartened by any seemingly positive development. Anything that could bring the team back to almost glory. And we think thrifty owner Robert Sarver and his crew may have stumbled on a guy who could help ace guard Goran Dragic make our purple-and-gold goons respectable again: 7-foot-1 Alex Len. We know: Tree-tall white guys (jump-shooters like Dirk Nowitzki aside) tend to be meat in the middle in today's NBA, not the mega-scorers needed to be to win championships. But if Len can stay healthy (ankle issue), we predict he'll be different. A sophomore at the University of Maryland last season, the Lithuanian averaged 11 points, eight rebounds, and two blocked shots per game (impressive college numbers). Against the reigning-national-champion Kentucky Wildcats last year, he dominated the player whom scouts would declare the best big man in the '13 draft, Nerlens Noel — scoring 23 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, and blocking four shots. Don't look for the Suns' fifth overall pick in the NBA draft (he could've gone first if not for the ankle injury) to start immediately; he'll play behind journeyman big man Marcin Gortat, whose contract expires after next season. The Suns say they picked Len because of his, um, "upside." He's a giant 20-year-old who, they say, may not be done growing physically. He's certainly not done growing as a scorer and defender. We pray he becomes the franchise player that the Suns can build around.

We'd been hearing Joe Garagiola's gravelly voice our whole waking lives. It was always a comfort to hear him broadcasting baseball games for NBC and, since moving to the Valley, off-and-on with the Arizona Diamondbacks, with whom his son, Joe Jr., used to be an exec. Joe Sr. always was a wise and wisecracking presence. When he retired from broadcasting recently — to much fanfare by the Diamondbacks — we got a lump in our throats to think a presence from our sports-crazed youth no longer would be a mainstay.

Garagiola's 87 and we're . . . well, never mind — but his departure's a reminder of the cruel passing of time. Garagiola's a true sports legend, and not in the traditional sense for an ex-jock. He cracks that he wasn't a great catcher in the major leagues, that he wasn't even the greatest catcher on the block where he grew up in St. Louis — Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra lived down the street. He was no Bob Uecker, mind you, but Garagiola hit only .255 lifetime, spending the bulk of his nine-year big-league career with his hometown Cardinals. He also played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Chicago Cubs, and, briefly, the old New York baseball Giants. As a rookie, he played in one World Series with the Cards, who prevailed over the Boston Red Sox and slugger Ted Williams. Joe became famous for his mouth, his monkeyshines, and his sense of humor.

He was a character, and not just as a sportscaster. He kept fellow panelists and his audience on The Today Show in stitches for eight years during two stints. He was an occasional guest host of the Johnny Carson show, including the only Tonight Show appearance of John Lennon and Paul McCartney while the Beatles still were together. A pal of Gerald Ford's, he watched election returns at the White House with the accidental president. His good humor and wit have carried him far. No question that his boyhood pal Yogi was the far better ballplayer, but Joe lasted longer in the public eye.

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