A Real Star
He was the first overall selection by the Minnesota North Stars in 1988. He was the face of two franchises. He was a playoff performer. A complete player, and a class act.
Most importantly, he is the greatest American scorer in NHL history.
These are just a few accolades that can be used to describe Mike Modano. One could argue that Modano’s entrance into the NHL started a revolution in attitudes towards hockey in the United States.
The Livonia, Michigan native gained notoriety by becoming the second American player taken first overall in the NHL Entry Draft. Modano replaced draft bust Brian Lawton (the other American taken first overall) after he was shipped off to the New York Rangers when he failed to report to camp in 1988. The Minnesota North Stars brass would not make the same mistake twice. Modano posted 29 goals and 46 assists in his rookie season as a 19 year old with a miserable North Stars team that finished low in the standings.
From there, his career would skyrocket. “Mo” stuck with the struggling franchise until they asserted themselves in one of the most memorable seasons in NHL history.
With a 27-39-14 record they barely clinched a playoff berth in the 1990-91 season. They made the most of it. Modano and the North Stars defeated the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues—two teams with almost 40 more points than them in the standings—as well as the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Edmonton Oilers only to lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games for the Stanley Cup.
Modano may have been playing with established NHL stars Dave Gagner, Neal Broten and Brian Propp, but his eight goals and 12 assists in the ’91 playoff run placed him in the “elite” category.
Scoring goals—and lots of them—became the name of the game for Modano. Although the North Stars ran into financial trouble and were forced to move to Dallas, that didn’t stop Modano from becoming a premier NHL player.
Most importantly, he gave hockey fans in Texas something special on top of that.
“Modano’s impact on the Stars was astronomical. He provided a new team a face,” said writer Austin Waldron of BlackoutDallas.com. “An All-American star talent on the ice, a role model and community favorite to spread the game off it.”
Modano tore up the NHL in the 1993-94 season in Dallas by posting his only 50-goal season in his career. After that, it was consistent goal scoring, clutch play in several playoff berths, and an opportunity to do something special.
The 1998-99 season brought about Modano’s crowning moment. The Dallas Stars had an undoubtedly stacked team. In the offseason, the third greatest scorer in NHL history, Brett Hull, joined the team as a free agent. The one-two punch of Hull and Modano struck fear into the entire league.
Their record reflected that fear.
The Stars went on to win 51 games that season, losing only eight home games. Modano paved the way, leading the team in goals, assists and points. In that season, the Stars won their conference, as well as the President’s Trophy with the best record in the league.
In the playoffs, Modano and company steamrolled Edmonton in four games, fought their way through St. Louis and defeated the powerhouse Colorado Avalanche in a thrilling seven game series. Their last obstacle was goalie Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres.
Hampered by an injured wrist, Mike Modano continued to cement his status as a legend. He led his team in goals, assists, and points once again in the playoffs. Seven of his 18 assists in that playoff season came in the Final series alone.
Most importantly, Modano set up the most important goal of his career in game six of the Final.
To Bob Cole’s confusion, Mike Modano set up linemate Jere Lehtinen’s one-timer, leaving Brett Hull all alone to stash the rebound. Modano showed dogged determination behind the net. He would not be denied Lord Stanley’s Cup.
His last noteworthy career accomplishments came in his quest to usurp Joe Mullen as the greatest American goal scorer, and to overtake Phil Housley as the greatest American scorer, period. Modano made short work of the goal scoring record by scoring two goals against the Nashville Predators on March 17, 2007. But, that wasn’t enough for the Michigan native.
In a game against the San Jose Sharks on November 7, 2007, Mike Modano stood alone at the top.
Dallas Stars voice Ralph Strangis put it best. With 1,233 points, “He’s alone at the top! Mike Modano is America’s greatest scorer!”
What should have been his last moment as a hockey player was perhaps the most unexpectedly clutch game he ever played. The Dallas Stars made it pretty obvious that Modano would not be back after the 2009-10 season. Trailing 2-1 against the Anaheim Ducks at Fan Appreciation Night at the American Airlines Center, Modano put on a show in his final home game.
With over a minute to play, Modano tied the game on a controversial goal. His stick appeared to tip the puck above the crossbar and past Ducks net minder Jonas Hiller. The NHL War Room didn’t care; it was called a good goal. Then, up second in the shootout, Modano scored the game-winning goal with one of his patented sickening wrist shots to seal the victory. In the grand scheme of things, this win meant nothing in the standings.
But for Modano, it meant everything in the world.
Modano was serenaded with cheers by the Stars faithful for what seemed like hours. It concluded his time with the organization. It didn’t end the love affair between himself and the Stars faithful.
Modano received a similar ovation in Minnesota just a few nights later. Named the first star of the game, Modano skated out onto the ice donning a Minnesota North Stars jersey. Modano emotionally skated around the Xcel Energy Center ice receiving praise from the original fans that embraced him as a budding star in the State of Hockey.
Also, upon his return to Dallas as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, another standing ovation was in order by the fans. The jumbotron at the American Airlines Center simply read, ‘Thank you, Mike’.
“Modano is the most unassuming superstar I have ever encountered,” said Dallas Stars’ color commentator Daryl Reaugh. “He is great with the media and is always the shiny penny when on the ice.”
The Dallas Stars organization will never forget what Mike Modano did for them over his 20 seasons with the team. He revitalized their hopes. He gave them a face. He delivered them a Stanley Cup. Most importantly, he gave them a Star worth remembering for a long, long time.
Stars fans like Melissa Grissom want him to stick with the organization in some facet. Reaugh has mentioned through Twitter that perhaps the broadcast booth is his future calling. Whatever he does do, he will handle it with class. That’s just how ‘Mo’ is.
Several significant American hockey stalwarts are enshrined within the Hockey Hall of Fame. One real American Star should stand alone at the top: Michael Thomas Modano Jr. The premier American hockey hero.
1,374 regular season points in 1,499 career games, and 146 points in 176 career playoff games. Congratulations on everything you’ve earned, Mo. You deserve all of it.
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