September 21, 2011
"After a long summer of thinking about my future, I've come to the decision that it's time to retire as a player from the NHL. There's way too many people to thank here at this time and too much to say, so I have a press conference scheduled for early Friday afternoon. Check back Friday late afternoon for more. What a great ride it's been!"
Time for Scotty Wazz to cross another name off the "guys from NHL '94 still playing in 2011" list ...
Modano was never a 100-point player. The closest he ever came to breaking the century mark were back-to-back 93-point seasons with the Minnesota North Stars in 1990-1992. His 561 goals ranks him 23rd on the all-time list, as the four goals he scored in 40 games with the Detroit Red Wings last season pushed him ahead of Guy LaFleur.
Yet Modano was every bit the superstar that Steve Yzerman or Joe Sakic(notes) or any of his peers during his prime were; and like those two Hall of Famers, an indelible part of his legacy is specific to franchise and to country.
Mike Modano was to hockey in Texas as Wayne Gretzky was to hockey in California, even if the magnitude of his contribution didn't result in, say, an NHL team in Houston (yet).
He was an offensive star with matinee idol looks who became the face of the Dallas Stars in a non-traditional market. His name was on the back of freshly pressed jerseys on fans. His face was everywhere from billboards to local talk shows. In a sport that emphasizes "team" over individual with fervor, he was an individual helping to sell his team to new fans.
Mike Modano is the greatest player this franchise has ever seen or will ever seen. He is the greatest American born player to ever lace up a pair of skates. He built his tremendous offensive numbers during the clutching and grabbing of the mid and late 1990's, bought into playing defense under Bob Gainey and Ken Hitchcock, brought the Stanley Cup to Dallas in 1999, and was as singularly responsible for growing the game of hockey in North Texas as anyone possibly could be.
The "best American player" debate is a good one, with Modano loyalists clashing with the Chelios/Leetch camp. But that's conjecture; the fact is that on Nov. 7, 2007, Modano became the best U.S.-born offensive player statistically in NHL history:
That's the night Modano's back-to-back goals gave him 1,233 points in 1,253 regular-season games. It was 242 fewer games than Phil Housley needed to set the previous mark for U.S.-born players. That led to this moment, via the Stars:
"There was one phone call that caught Modano the most by surprise, and it's a call he won't soon forget. Shortly after 10:30 a.m. California time, Modano received a congratulatory phone call from the President of the United States, George W. Bush. The normally poised, composed Modano was momentarily at a loss for words when he heard the leader of the free world on the other end of his phone."
His legacy for American hockey is as vital as his legacy in the Lone Star State. From Greatest Hockey Legends:
Modano's ascent to the upper echelon of NHL stars made him an important player for the United States. He represented his country at the World Championships in 1990 and 1993 and the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics. In 1991 he helped the U.S. finish second to Canada at the 1991 Canada Cup then scored six points in seven games five years later as the U.S. won the inaugural World Cup of hockey. In Nagano Modano was arguably the most consistent forward on a disappointing U.S. team that failed to win a medal. At the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, Modano and his teammates made up for their disappointment in 1998 by capturing a silver medal. In 2004, Modano went on to represent the U.S. for a second time at the World Cup of Hockey and in the spring of 2005 was named to the U.S. World Championship team.
What made Modano special weren't the stats or the championships — although bringing a Stanley Cup to Dallas in 1999 and then returning to the Final the following year is a hell of a way to establish a fan base.
It was that American hockey fans of a certain age finally had a player born on our soil that we could pretend to be while firing pucks at the net in our driveway. Or controlling on a video game. Or aspiring to become as we skated on local travel teams.
A guy who was a leader, with or without wearing a 'C'. A guy who carried himself with class on the ice and was charitable to a fault off the ice. A guy who got to cameo in "The Mighty Ducks" and marry a model/actress.
A guy who wasn't just a fantastic hockey player but someone a U.S. hockey fan could point to and say, "Damn, I want that life."
That there are so many other American players today, and on the way, for whom we can say the same is a testament to Modano's impact locally and nationally as a hockey legend.
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