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Doig Days of Winter

02/15/2002 1:49 PM - Defenseman Jason Doig is making his presence felt on the ice with the Griffins this season.
Story and photos by Mark Newman

Ice hockey, no doubt, rates right with bobsledding among the favorite pastimes of Jamaican people.

But you move a couple thousand miles north – Montreal, Quebec, to be exact – and everything changes. You watch hockey with the natives and you become a witness to the Canadiens dynasty and suddenly your perspective is never the same. Jason Doig knows this better than most.

His parents, Michael and Paula, moved to Montreal from Jamaica to attend McGill University, a highly respected school with a liberal policy toward welcoming foreign students.

“My dad loves hockey,” Doig says. “Being in Montreal, he couldn’t help but get caught up in the craze. He decided that if he ever had a son, he was going to play hockey.”

Doig grew up in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, a suburb west of Montreal, where he began to learn to skate at the age of three. “I really enjoyed hockey,” he recalls. “At first, I wasn’t very good, but I always worked hard and pushed myself.”

By age 9 or 10, Doig started to show promise. But it didn’t stop the taunts, some not so subtle, that had nothing to do with his playing skills. Cool Runnings had not yet made it hip to be a Jamaican on the ice.

Canadians are among the nicest people in the world, but it seems they are not immune to racism.

“It made me angry more than anything else,” Doig recalls. “There were times when I wanted to fight the person, but mostly it just pushed me to want to be better.”

Also pushing him to get better was his father, who idolized Bobby Orr and dreamed about his son playing in the league where the Golden Jet had been immortalized for his blazing speed and power.

“There were times when I wanted to quit, but he kept me in the game through the ups and downs,” Doig says. “He tried to give me pointers here and there. If I had a bad game, he’d be on me. But it was great that he was so dedicated. He was always there for me – it’s why I’m here today.” Doig battled the racism by forming a bond of sorts with two other players in the Quebec junior leagues: future Florida Panthers winger Peter Worrell and future Edmonton Oilers forward Georges Laraque.

“We all came up in the same system,” Doig says. “We were among the top players, so they didn’t say much to us after a while.”

Winnipeg’s third choice (34th overall) in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, Doig was nevertheless surprised when he cracked the Jets lineup as an 18-year-old kid out of junior hockey. “It was exciting, playing with guys like Keith Tkachuk and Teemu Selanne. My defensive partner was Teppo Numminen,” he recalls.

Doig scored his first NHL goal on the first shift of his first game. “It was unbelievable,” he says. “Keith Tkachuk sent the puck back to me at the point and I scored on a one-timer right between Andy Moog’s legs. Wow – I thought I was going to score 50 goals.”

He quickly came back down to earth. It wasn’t long before the Jets returned their talented teenager to his junior team to further develop. “It was disappointing,” he says. “I had really worked hard that summer and Winnipeg at the time wasn’t one of the best teams in the NHL.”

His ego would soon take another hit, one worse than a Darius Kasparaitis body check. The Canadian junior team invited Doig to its mid-December selection camp, but he failed to make the cut.

“It was devastating actually,” Doig recalls. “Having played in the NHL, I definitely thought I’d make the team. It was hard for me to take.”

He was sent to the junior team in Granby, joining the club in early January. The team, which finished with the ninth best record in Canadian junior history, lost only two more regular season games, one in which Doig did not dress.

The Predateurs became the first Quebec-based team to capture the Memorial Cup in 25 years. “We had a great team, so the year ended well,” says Doig, who was chosen as a first-team all-star.

After completing his junior career the following season, he bounced back and forth between the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes and the team’s AHL affiliate in Springfield.

“It was tough. When you’re a teenager, you tend to get a little more emotional. You’re a kid, you’re not used to changing scenery like that. Obviously, you’d like to be in the NHL.”

The past two seasons, Doig split his time between the New York Rangers and their AHL affiliate in Hartford. He definitely enjoyed his time in the Big Apple.

“It’s one of the better organizations in terms of the way they treat their players,” he says. “New York is an incredible city. There’s always so much going on and the night life is great. It was a lot of fun.”

Although he has fond memories of the city – it was in New York where he met his fiancee, Fay – Doig asked to be traded. “(General manager) Glen Sather came in and I got the feeling he wasn’t too high on me. I felt like I needed a change of scenery.”

Coming into Ottawa’s organization offered him new opportunities. “Being in Grand Rapids has been a good experience – I’ve been pretty happy so far,” he says.

While he would like to be playing for the Senators, Doig is going to do his best in Grand Rapids to prove that he belongs in the NHL. “You can’t worry about being called up,” he says.

“You’ve got to think about what you can work on, how you can make the most of your time here.”

Doig admits that it isn't easy being on the bubble. "It's really tough because you want to make that jump (to the NHL)," he says. "Honestly, it becomes difficult at times. Once you have a taste of it, you keep hoping you'll get another chance.

"Of course, you're happy to just be playing. At the same time, as a competitive athlete, you never want to settle for less."

Although he is still only 25, Doig is now in his seventh season as a pro. He knows what he has to do to take his game to the next level. "Because of my size (6-3, 225 lbs.), I've got to be physical. I've got to be good and reliable and not make any mistakes."

Consistency is his biggest challenge, but one that he hopes to conquer while playing against the other team's top line. "If I play the way I can on a consistent basis, I know I should get a chance," he says.

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