Death is part of life. We are born. We live. We die. And while all of us are born to eventually die, some leave sooner than others.
Michael Doan was taken too soon from those he loved and who loved him. Way too soon.
To reprise a heart-breaking story, the popular 25-year old Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native was recently killed in a single-vehicle accident near Rochester, Minnesota. He had been at a friend’s wedding the night before.
A personable and extremely likeable young man, Doan had just completed his first season as a goalie in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Prior to turning pro, Doan played four seasons of collegiate hockey. After three seasons with the Northern Michigan University Wildcats of the Division 1, Western Collegiate Hockey Association, he returned to Ontario and tended goal for the University of Windsor Lancers.
Before that, Doan fashioned a spectacular two-year goal-tending career in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, starring for both the Soo Eagles and Soo Thunderbirds.
A former high school athlete of the year while at St. Mary’s College in Sault Ste. Marie, Doan was an all-city standout in hockey, basketball and football.
At any rate, it was while he was playing for St. Mary’s during the 2008-2009 season that I first witnessed Doan’s extraordinary goal-tending talents in the high school hockey championship series between the Knights and the heavily-favoured Central Algoma Huskies. In a two-game series victory, Doan back-stopped St. Mary’s to a stunning championship triumph over previously-unbeaten Central Algoma with a dazzling display between the pipes.
Moving up to the NOJHL with the Soo Eagles for the 2009-2010 campaign, Doan served as the backup goalie for the majority of the season before coming off the bench in the playoffs to spark a series-win upset of the favoured Blind River Beavers. In the series-clinching game in Blind River, Doan made a remarkable 62 saves as the Eagles edged the Beavers. Indeed, Jim Capy, who was Blind River’s coach at the time, still refers to Doan’s performance as “by far, the best playoff goal-tending” he has seen in his dozen years as a bench boss in the NOJHL.
Traded, by request, from the Michigan-based Eagles to the Ontario-based Thunderbirds prior to the start of the 2010-2011 season, Doan continued to stand tall as a 6-foot-4, 215-pound goalie with cat-like reflexes, stealing a number of games on his own with breath-taking performances.
It was during the 2010-2011 season that I put in a call to my old friend Joe Shawhan, who at the time was an assistant coach at Northern Michigan University. I urged Shawhan to come to the Soo to check out Doan, believing that the kid was a Division 1 caliber goalie.
Shawhan agreed to head to Sault Ste. Marie to watch Doan in action for the Thunderbirds. Impressed by what he saw, Shawhan promised to return with Walt Kyle, who was NMU’s head coach at the time.
It wasn’t long before Kyle checked out Doan. And it wasn’t long after that Kyle and Shawhan committed to Doan for a Division 1 scholarship package at NMU.
Doan would play three seasons at NMU before leaving the Marquette school to complete his education at the University of Windsor and play for the hockey Lancers. It is also worth nothing that while at NMU, Doan was named to the WCHA all-academic team.
More than his hockey playing and overall athletic ability, it was Doan’s character and upbeat personality that led him to be loved and liked by so many family members and friends. Dare I say that if you had a problem with Doan, it was most-likely your problem.
To me, what also stood out about this carefree, respectable, fun-loving young man was his humility. This was one good kid who was not full of himself in any way, shape or form.
My wife and I attended the funeral home to pay our respects to Michael, his parents Mike and Nancy, his siblings Eli and Vanessa and any and all family members. I vowed to myself then and I vow now that they will not be the last respects that I pay to Michael.
Here’s hoping that perhaps the two NOJHL teams that he played for, the aforementioned cross-town rival Soo Eagles and Soo Thunderbirds, can come up with some sort of annual game to honour their former goalie and present a trophy in his name to the winning side. Anything that is done in his memory and his honour will be duly written by yours truly.
In the meantime, as Heaven has gained a good kid and a good goalie, I pray and I ask that the Doan family stays strong, stays together and holds memories of their much-loved Michael close to their hearts.
To Mike and Nancy, thanks for sharing Michael with so many of us. Thanks for allowing us, in our various ways and instances, to get to know him and to like him.
And thank you, Michael, for giving me so much good and positive material to write about over the years.
No. 1 as a goalie. No. 1 as a good kid.