Not until late in his career in Dallas did Mike Modano allow himself to really look at the banners hanging from the rafters at American Airlines Center honoring former Stars greats.
The possibility that his No. 9 would one day fly next to those of Bill Goldsworthy, Bill Masterton and former teammate Neal Broten rushed upon him as Dallas heaped applause and cheers onto Modano after his final home game in a Stars sweater on April 8, 2010.
On Saturday, that vision becomes a reality as the Stars organization will retire the greatest American-born scorer’s No. 9 sweater.
Modano said this honor ranks pretty closely with the 2007 season, in which he claimed the records for most goals by an American-born player and points by an American, and the 1999 Stanley Cup Championship.
“It’s slowly getting there and getting things organized with the family and getting what I want to say written down speech-wise,” Modano said. “There’s a lot of things that start going through your mind — getting a little restless and nervous to get there and get it started.”
In his final home game with the Stars, Modano had an assist, the game-tying goal and the shootout winner to push Dallas past Anaheim 3-2.
Afterward, the Livonia, Mich., native skated around the ice to a standing ovation.
“I think I felt like I had really turned a lot of people on to the game of hockey and made them excited about it and hopefully brought some good entertainment to them and enjoyed it,” Modano said. “I think that’s when it really kind of hit me that there was a lot of love going both ways.”
Modano’s migration south has made an impact on hockey in Texas.
In fact, Texas has the most professional hockey teams in the United States.
When the Stars moved to Dallas, the North Texas area offered just five sheets of ice, no high school teams and 250 kids and 225 adults playing in recreational leagues.
This year, 5,000 North Texas children and adults are playing hockey on more than 20 rinks. In addition, there are 55 high school hockey teams in a league hosted by the Stars alone.
Those achievements are what Modano believes truly defines his career.
“It’s about a lot of educated fans and turning them onto a sport that really no one knew and most didn’t know existed and bring some excitement to them about a new sport,” he said. “They were very welcoming to us with open arms and they took us in and enjoyed it. I think that’s the most impactful thing.”
His only disappointment in his two decades with the Stars was not having the chance to play one more year and go out on his terms in the place that became his home, he said. Instead, he played out the final year of his 21-year NHL career as a Detroit Red Wing.
“I think that’s really what was always on my mind after that [final home] game, [with the Stars], hoping that wasn’t it,” he said. “I think that part sticks with me that it’s too bad it couldn’t happen again.”
After Saturday’s ceremony, Modano said he didn’t think his life would change much. He plans to stay in his role as the team’s executive adviser and alternate governor.
The role allows the team to call upon him when he is needed and allows him the flexibility to also enjoy his retirement with his family.
“I think it’s going to be fun coming up there to the game and seeing the number up there for as long as I can,” Modano said.