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Scottsdale native, No. 1 pick Auston Matthews reflects on 'special' return to Valley

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Posted at 2:37 PM, Dec 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-23 19:25:44-05

On Friday night, Arizona Coyotes captain Shane Doan will play in his 1,500th NHL game.

His first game came over 20 years ago -- over a year before the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Scottsdale native Auston Matthews, was born.

It just so happens that Doan's milestone game will come on the same night Matthews will play against the man he idolized for the first time in his home state.

As his Toronto Maple Leafs get set to play the Coyotes in Glendale at 7 p.m. Friday night (tickets are available here), Matthews reflected on what it will mean to face Doan, and play in the arena in which he grew up cheering for his hometown team. 

"This is where I grew up. This is where I lived. It's definitely special to come back here and play the team you grew up watching. It's definitely going to be pretty unique," Matthews said Friday, just hours before the opening face-off.

Matthews is expected to take that face-off, according to Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock -- and when Matthews does so, he'll have plenty of family and friends cheering him on.

That includes his grandparents, who will get to see Matthews play in the NHL in person for the first time.

"It's going to be a great night for my whole family to see," Matthews said. "We've been to a bunch of these games before and usually we were sitting in the stands. To be out there skating, I'm sure it's going to be very emotional for my family."

Matthews began playing hockey when he was five years old and went on to play for the Arizona Bobcats minor hockey program. He still looks up to Doan, whom he grew up watching at Gila River Arena.

"He's been such a huge part of hockey in Arizona and being here his whole career, he's just such an amazing person, an amazing player," he said. "For Arizona to have a captain and a player and a person like him here, it's pretty great."

Matthews is the first native Arizonan to be selected first in the NHL Draft -- and he said he wouldn't mind being an inspiration to other aspiring young Valley hockey players in the same way Doan inspired him.

"If that's what it's gonna be, then yeah, absolutely, I'd love to be that person," he said. "I had people I looked up to growing up in the Valley, whether it was guys older than me that I skate with and train with today, or guys that (have played for) the Coyotes like Shane Doan, Daniel Briere, Keith Tkachuk. It's definitely pretty humbling to kind of be a role model for kids growing up here in the Valley, so it's pretty special.

"It's just so unique. The hockey community is so small here. It's very tight. It's definitely going to be special playing here tonight."