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Memories of Mike Modano

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I’m not going to do an exact retrospective on Mike Modano’s great career, since we’re not even certain he’s retiring. If and when he announces his retirement this summer, then we’ll take a look at his great numbers and career accomplishments. For now, I’m just going to talk about Mike Modano and my memories of the best player in Stars franchise history as he plays what is likely his final home game tonight against the Anaheim Ducks.

I grew up a Dallas Stars fan, when my family and I worked as volunteers at Reunion Arena in the early 1990’s. It was incredible for me to be able to be so close to the players and the behind the scenes workings of a hockey game, especially since many times we covered the entrance where the players would enter before the games. Shane Churla, Kevin Hatcher, Dave Gagner, Grant Ledyard, Todd Harvey -- all players that I was able to get to know off the ice. Mike Modano? Well, he was this mystical figure that everyone was crazy about, and when he acknowledged you with “hi”, a pat on the head or a hand shake it was just an incredible feeling.

Of course, it’s the memories of Modano on the ice that stand out to me. It’s tough to pinpoint very specific moments without looking them up; instead, it’s a mashup of nearly 20 years of memories that leave me with just an overall feeling of greatness and the feeling of watching a legend play night in and night out.

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The sight of Modano flying effortless across the ice from one end to the other, that Stars jersey flapping in the wind, is the image that will always be in my head when thinking of Modano. I don’t know if there’s any other player in the NHL that was able to be so much faster than those around him without looking like he was skating that much harder.

His ability to bury a one timer from anywhere on the ice. It’s not exactly at the level that Brett Hull reached in his career, but that was easily Modano’s best asset. That smooth, easy and extremely powerful stroke that was deadly accurate is a shot that he still uses to this day, and every time he finds some way to score on a hard shot from a bad angle it brings chills to my skin.

I’ll also never forget Modano’s backhand shot, an art that seems to be lost these days and one that Modano used to score with from incredible angles. I’ll never forget seeing Modano score from near the blue line on an incredibly accurate backhand shot, that painted the upper corner of the net. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shot quite like that.

His offense and his speed will always be what Modano is known for, but it’s his selflessness and his team-first attitude are what I’ll remember most. Mike Modano was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars for his incredible offensive ability, yet after the team moved to Dallas and hired Ken Hitchcock as coach the franchise shifted philosophies. The Stars became a defensive team, and asked Modano to take on a more defensive-minded approach. Not only did he embrace the new role but he became perhaps the best wo-way player in the NHL.

Later in his career, he was asked to become a checking line center as his offensive skills and speed declined and fully embraced that role as well. He had the option of leaving Dallas for a more lucrative contract a few years back, but instead took a bit of a discount to stay with the team he’s always played for. The incredible line of Brett Hull, Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen will go down as the best line the Stars have ever and likely ever will put on the ice. Modano’s playmaking ability perfectly matched with Hull’s scoring tough, and Lehtinen rounded it all off with some incredible defensive prowess.

I’ll also never forget seeing Mike Modano slam into the boards behind the net after Ruslan Sulei gave him a nice push in the back. He slammed head first into the boards, a sight that immediately looked as though Modano had broken his neck. It’s perhaps the most gruesome play I had ever seen in hockey, and seeing Modano lie motionless on the ice as he was strapped into a stretcher made everyone immediately question what life would be like without him on the team. There were tears in the eyes of every Stars fan that night.

It’s tough to imagine the Dallas Stars taking the ice without Mike Modano on the team. He’s been the face of the franchise for so long, and was the perfect player for the team to have to be able to market the team in Dallas. He helped make hockey into a incredibly popular sport in North Texas and I’m still struggling to think of him not playing with a Stars jersey on his back.

He may come back next season, but I doubt he does it with any team other than the Dallas Stars. He’s passed up numerous opportunities to be traded to much better teams contending for the Stanley Cup, and he’s decided to stay in Dallas even through these tough seasons of late. He is and forever will be a Dallas Star, and if he does retire he will instantly be welcomed to be a member of the front office. He may be part of an ownership group that purchases the franchise but if not, he’ll be associated with the team in some important capacity as soon as he retires.

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If this is indeed your final home game in Dallas, Mike, then we bid you a warm and teary-eyed adieu.