The dark jersey flapping in the wind behind him as he skated by all who stood in his way towards the defenseless goalie. We all remember that. The kid from Livonia, Michigan drafted #1 overall in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. The kid that would forever change hockey in Dallas on a level nobody has, or most likely will ever do. And on March 8th, 2014, that kid steps on the ice once again to have his famous number 9 lifted to the rafters in the city that made him so famous.
Hockey in Dallas? Nobody would have ever thought of such a thing until 1993 when the Minnesota North Stars moved down south to North Texas. Norm Green brought the franchise down to Dallas amidst outrage from those he left behind in Bloomington and the “State of Hockey”. Norm was looking to win, and win fast when he moved the team to Dallas. As any fan that attended a game in the Dallas Stars’ 20th Anniversary season remembers, Green uttered the words at that first game at Reunion Arena, “And now we, the Dallas Stars; all of us and all of you, have a message to send to the NHL: Don’t Mess With Texas!” In a matter of five short years, the pieces were in place to prove that statement to be true. None more prevalent than the ever humble assistant captain, Mike Modano. Along with Stars greats such as Craig Ludwig, Derian Hatcher, Ed Belfour, Brett Hull, and Joe Nieuwendyk, the young Modano and team did what Norm envisioned from the start. They brought a hockey championship to the city of Dallas. The 1999 Stanley Cup put the Stars on the map for the next few years as they made it to the playoffs and the Stanley Cup Finals the next year, unfortunately losing to the New Jersey Devils in six games. The image of Mike Modano raising Lord Stanley, though, will forever be engrained into the minds of every Stars fan.
You ask almost any NHL fan the first player they think of when you mention the Dallas Stars, and it will most likely be Mike. You ask me what I think of when I hear the name Mike Modano, and one word comes to mind: legendary. The man who compiled both the most points (1,374) and goals (561) for an American born player can be described as nothing more than an icon to not only the city of Dallas and the Stars franchise, but for the United States and hockey as a whole. Mike Modano to me is the epitome of what a star player should be. He lets his play on the ice do the talking for him, has the awareness to know what to do in the situation he is presented, and knows exactly what to say. In searching for adjectives to describe Modano, none that I can think of can accurately define what he means to both myself and any Stars fan I come across. The iconic image that I will always remember is that black jersey flailing like a bat out of hell on his way to scoring a highlight reel goal. As I often like to say, “Once a Star, Always a Star”. Now, with his number being immortalized for as long as the Stars exist, the #9 will always be used by one man, and one man only. The great Mike Modano.
Imagine, what a young kid from Michigan could do for hockey in Texas. Make it evolve from almost an impossible shot in the dark to a full fledged reality and franchise for North Texans to be proud of. I sit here today, in 2014, looking back on all the years I can remember watching Mike Modano, oblivious to how great he was until he began breaking records. Only after watching him grab the all-time American points scoring lead did it dawn on me how special he really was. I always had a sense that he was a great player within the organization, but he was never one to flaunt accomplishments around as many people would think, which is why I believe it never hit me until that night against the San Jose Sharks on November 7, 2007, where he would capture the record on a shorthanded breakaway goal. Only then did I realize and fully understand that he, in my mind, is undoubtedly the greatest American born player ever.
Looking back on the career of Mike Modano, many will agree with me in saying that there might never be another American player like him. His loyalty, determination, toughness, and dedication separated him from virtually everyone else and made him into what people remember him as today. The icon that will be forever associated with the Stars and the city of Dallas. In a city known for men such as Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, Emmitt Smith, and Tom Landry, to name a few, Modano is easily up there with them, and I believe always will be.
Mike Modano. Once a Star. Always a Star.
(Photo Source: USA Today)