Commentary

Doan-Fisher friendship bigger than hockey

Updated: May 1, 2012, 1:53 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

A friendship is on hold for at least two weeks as on-ice rivals Shane Doan of Phoenix and Mike Fisher of Nashville face off in the second round of the playoffs. But their bond is not in question.

The two men, key players for their respective franchises, have become friends off the ice over the past few years in large part because of their common faith.

The two first connected at the 2005 IIHF world hockey championships in Austria and again at the 2009 worlds in Switzerland as teammates on Team Canada.

"I got a lot of respect for Shane," the Nashville Predators' No. 1 center told ESPN.com. "We've become friends, not only because we played at the world championships together, but because of our faith in Christ. That's the unique bond there, we formed a friendship, we relate to each other and the sport and some of the things we go through. We encourage each other when we can. It's been fun."

Doan said the two immediately got along famously once they met.

"I love the way he plays, I love the way he competes," the Phoenix Coyotes' captain told ESPN.com. "He's a solid hockey player and a solid person. Being genuine is the most important aspect of understanding people, and I think Mike is as genuine a guy as there is. He's not going to pretend he's anything that he's not. And I think that's great. I admire that."

It's the same quality that fuels Doan's admiration for NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, whose 2011 season brought the issue of Christianity in sports to the forefront like perhaps never before.

[+] EnlargeDoan/Fisher
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jacques BoissinotShane Doan said he and Mike Fisher got along famously once they met while playing for Team Canada.

"The thing that I liked the most about the whole Tim Tebow thing is that he's genuine," Doan said. "It's not a facade, it's not a fake thing. It's genuine, it's who he is. He's very humble, very generous and all the things that you want. That's so important. It's real. That's the nicest part of that whole thing and why so many people got caught up in it."

Fisher said the magnitude of the Tebow story has filtered down to where people like himself are getting asked more questions about their faith. And Fisher's fine with that.

"He's really shed a light on Christianity in sports and allowed me to share my story a bit more because people are a bit more inquisitive," Fisher said. "Shane's probably the same as well. It's been fun."

Neither Fisher nor Doan are apprehensive when asked to talk about their faith. At the same time, they say they don't preach to teammates or the media about it. If people approach them about it, they'll open up. They're not imposing their beliefs on anyone, but they're not going to shy away from proudly speaking about their beliefs.

"Some people don't like the fact some of us are outspoken but that's just who I am," Fisher said. "I believe that my career is so much more than hockey. It's about sharing my faith, that's something that's really important to me. I'm not a preacher by any means, but I'm not afraid to talk about it and what's important to me. And hopefully it rubs off on people, and makes a difference and encourages people to stand up in what they believe in and to help others and be better."

Doan runs the Coyotes' chapel. He says teammates do ask him about his faith.

"We have some great discussions about it," Doan said. "I don't think anyone thinks I preach at them. But they all know I love to discuss it. It's what I believe. I have no qualms about that. Listen, I've made way too many mistakes in my life to be preaching, but at the same time I'm not going to back down from what I believe. I want to be known as genuine and real. I think that's what has made Mike successful and I think it's one of the big reasons we get along so well."

Like Doan and his wife and family, Fisher's faith is also a staple in his marriage to country music star Carrie Underwood. It was one of the initial draws when the two first met.

"That was a huge part of our relationship early on," Fisher said. "She's got a similar story to me in our journey and walking with the Lord. We both kind of learned through the teenage years and found what was really important and made it real for us. That was a big part of our relationship and obviously still is and of our marriage now."

For Doan, a word that he repeats over and over is "genuine." He said it six times during a 15-minute interview with ESPN.com. And it's clear that perhaps what he's trying to say is that a lot of athletes cite their faith but not all walk the walk.

"Too many times athletes and people want to think it's what they should do, and they try to do it, but it's not genuine," Doan said. "God called on us to be real. He didn't call on us to be fake, he called on us to be real."

That's one thing Doan and Fisher will never be accused of -- not being genuine.