Someone asked me a couple of seasons ago, “When is Mike Modano going to retire?” The first thing that came to my mind was, “Really? Are you serious? Mike Modano is NEVER going to retire!” When asked the same question THIS season, my first thought was, “Soon.” The thing that surprised me most about that reaction was – I wanted him to.
After watching this season unfold, the reality of Modano taking the ice in Dallas wearing number 9 for the last time is very sobering. To be honest, I don’t like it – at all.
Growing up in Texas, hockey was not a household conversation. I grew up with blue and white pom-poms, hearing names like Roger Staubach and Tom Landry. If you live in the Lone Star State, whether or not you follow sports at all, you know about and are surrounded by all-things-Dallas-Cowboys. Sunday afternoons in front of the TV grew into tailgating with friends and watching the Cowboys win multiple Championships. It’s what Texans lived for. Football Nation.
When the Stars rolled into town in 1993, I had never watched an entire 60 minutes of hockey. Not once. Not even close. Hockey? Sure, it could be exciting. Could be – I was raised around a neighborhood full of boys, and I loved sports just as much as any one of them. I could try out this new sport. Fort Worth had a minor league team that played just two blocks from my office, so in 1994 I decided to attend my first game. It was fun, littered with fights, and had a crowd of maybe a thousand people. I began watching the Dallas Stars occasionally on TV, but really had to pay close attention to learn the rules. Icing? Slashing? Hooking? Once I open the door, I have to walk all the way through. I learned as much as I could about the game but didn’t attend my first NHL game until 1997.
Reunion Arena is still a place that I hold near and dear to my heart – even though just mere months ago it was brought down, leaving us with nothing but memories. On the night of November 19, 1997, I saw the Stars take the ice for the first time in person, skating against the Edmonton Oilers. The Stars would go on to win the game 3-2, and I witnessed something that I knew I could never turn my back on – the greatness that was, and IS, NHL hockey. Mike Modano wouldn’t tally any goals that evening, but he did put up two points in assists.
From the moment I saw him step onto the ice, I could see his passion for the game. Anyone who has seen Modano skate knows that no one else has ice presence like he does. You could put a mask on him, strip off his number, and throw him on the ice in front of 20,000 hockey fans, and every single person in the building would know it was him by the way the wind caught his jersey as he skated coast to coast. No one on the bench could score goals like he could. No other player was filled with his determination and could make playing the game of hockey look SO effortless. Thus began my admiration for the player who would become the greatest American-born scoring leader in the NHL.
Moving away from home at the young age of 15, his will and determination for being the best player that he could be took off faster than he could imagine. He was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars in the first round, first overall. He hasn’t looked back. He’s been a leader in the locker room, on the score sheet, and on the ice. Having been given the “C” after Derian Hatcher left the team in 2003, and then relinquishing the role to Brenden Morrow in 2006; Modano handled the situation with poise and class and showed what true character he possessed. He’s a team player in every aspect of his life.
When people ask me now how I feel about Modano retiring, I give them my true, honest, blunt answer. It sucks. To say that Mike is the face of the franchise in Dallas is still not doing him justice to encapsulate what he means to this team and this city. He is a Dallas icon. When you say, “Dallas Stars,” you also say, “Mike Modano.” The two have never been separate, and it’s just unnatural to think they could ever BE separated. I think back to players who really impacted my growth as a hockey fan, and two at the top of that list are Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic. Both very classy guys, each drafted by the team they would eventually retire with. As much respect as I have for each of them, and as monumentally important as they both were to their teams and to their generation of hockey players, Mike Modano still raised the bar. He not only sold hockey to the city of Dallas, he opened up doors for teams in the south to blossom and thrive. He made a huge impact on USA hockey, representing the United States in numerous tournaments, winning three medals. In 2007, he broke both the records for most goals scored and most points scored by an American-born hockey player.
I could fill this article up with all of the stats, achievements, and special moments that have filled his career, but you don’t want to be here forever. Personally, Mike Modano showed me that hockey players are just regular people doing a job that they LOVE. He’s an extremely emotional guy, a devoted teammate, a humble human being, and he wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, and he’s truly shown the fans in Dallas what it means to be a leader on and off of the ice. He contributes back to the community by heading up the Mike Modano Foundation. This foundation helps raise the awareness and provide funding for organizations that assist children and families who have suffered abuse. Whether you’re seeing the player or the man, you’re seeing someone special who cares about those around him.
Having been in the building for nearly all of Modano’s milestones during his amazing career, I will surely be there for his last – the final time he takes the ice in the American Airlines Center as a Dallas Star. The tears that night won’t just be those of the man wearing that iconic waving jersey skating down the ice, but will be shared by all of those who have grown to love and respect the difference he’s made in their lives.