Saturday at American Airlines Center, the Stars will retire the number of the most prolific American-born scorer in NHL history, Mike Modano. As the face of the Dallas franchise for 16 years, Modano was part of many of the team’s most indelible events. Since his No. 9 will soon hang from the rafters of the AAC, here are nine of the most memorable moments from Modano’s career, along with his recollections.
Oct. 5, 1993: Then a 23-year-old beginning his fifth NHL season, Modano and his Stars teammates had no real idea what to expect as they took the ice at Reunion Arena in Dallas for the first time after the franchise moved from Minneapolis. Would a region with relatively little familiarity with hockey support their new team?
“We were just concerned with the type of reception we were going to get — how much the fans would really know what was going on and what was trying to be accomplished on the ice. We were surprised at the type of atmosphere right from the start — it was lively. It was pretty exciting to get that reception — we knew from Game 1 it was going to be good here.”
Fifty is nifty
April 12, 1994: After scoring 33 goals in each of his previous two seasons, Modano had a torrid start in 1993. He amassed 16 goals and 24 points in the first 17 games and ultimately had the finest goal-scoring season of his career in his first season in Dallas. He scored his 50th goal in the penultimate game of the year against St. Louis.
“After my first couple years, I was trying to do the math as far as what all needed to happen for me to score 50. One thing was, I thought the power play had to be phenomenal to do that. For the most part that year our power play was really good. And Ulf Dahlen — that whole year, we were together the whole time. With Ulf being able to control the puck in the corners behind the net, I was able to get loose and get by sometimes and find some holes in the slot, and he was able to get the puck in there.
As overall scoring decreased in the NHL and the Stars’ offense got more balanced, Modano never scored more than 40 goals in a season again.
“Once I got 50, I thought I’d be able to get it a couple more times. But then you realize how hard it is to score 50 and how amazing some of those guys are to have scored back-to-back 50-goal seasons.”
‘Texas hat trick’
Feb. 16, 1996: In a 6-1 victory over Edmonton at Reunion Arena, Modano scored a career-high four goals in a game — one in the first period, one in the second and two in the third.
“I had a couple lucky bounces to begin with. There were a couple good plays by Jere Lehtinen that night, a couple 2-on-1s, bang-bang plays from behind the net that found their way in. The fourth one was a nice one — back and forth a little bit on a 2-on-1 with Jere. I thought for sure he was going to shoot the last pass, but he came back to me.
“I [scored four in a game] a few times in juniors, but never in the NHL. Everybody tagged it the ‘Texas hat trick.’ ”
Stars survive Avalanche
June 4, 1999: Dallas split the first two games of the conference finals at home, then split two more in Denver before the Avalanche scored seven goals at Reunion Arena to go up three games to two with a chance to finish it at home. But the Stars rallied to win 4-1 in Game 6, forcing the decisive game back in Dallas.
“Considering that we got killed in Game 5 at home, I’m sure the fans and everybody thought that was it going back to Denver and there was no chance of us stealing that game. But we walked in there and played one of our best games in the playoffs that year. We knew coming back to Game 7 at home, we had the fans behind us. I just remember the fans standing up start to finish. They stood the whole game … it was such a neat thing to see as a player. Once it went to Game 7, we thought if we played hard and smart, we’d be OK.”
Hoisting the Cup
June 19, 1999: The most memorable moment in franchise history was the pinnacle of Modano’s career, when the Stars defeated the Buffalo Sabres for the team’s only Stanley Cup since moving to Dallas. Modano played more than 46 minutes over 61 shifts in a triple-overtime Game 6 victory, despite playing with a cast on a broken wrist he suffered in Game 2. He had two assists in the Cup-clinching game, including on Hull’s winner late in the third OT.
“[The injury] happened so early in the series, I thought, here’s my chance to get to the Finals on the best team I’d ever played on, and I didn’t think I’d be able to finish that series. I woke up and the pain was there, but we found ways to deal with it. The last two games of that series, I was still able to handle the stick and make some plays, pass a little bit and do something.
“Game 6 was one of those nights where we thought if we went to Game 7 we were in trouble. We had some guys who were banged up and hurting and might have missed Game 7.
An emotional Modano finally got to skate with the Cup after his 10th season in the NHL. He totaled 23 points in 23 postseason games.
“It was just a ton of relief, the pressure of what that organization felt they were getting as a player in the draft and you’re around long enough to pay it back and be what they thought you were. With how physically demanding it was, the broken wrist, the whole thing, it was the weight of the world off my shoulders all at once.”
The game that wouldn’t end
April 24, 2003: The longest game in Stars history and the fourth-longest in NHL history unfolded at American Airlines Center for Game 1 of their second-round playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks. When it was all over, the teams had slogged through seven full periods — and 48 seconds of the eighth — when Petr Sykora scored early in the fifth overtime. Modano was on the ice for more than 55 minutes that night. The Ducks went on to win the series in six games behind goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s extraordinary play.
“The problem was it was so early in the series. If that’s a series-clinching game maybe it’s different, but that’s one where if you win, you feel great and if you lose, it takes you two days to recover. Giguere made some unbelievable saves … We had tons of opportunities to score, we had some point-blank shots. After the third period you’re kind of like, ‘OK, let’s try to be smart and not do something stupid — let’s get this thing over with.’ The longer we’re out there the harder it is to feel good for the next game. That’s the crazy thing about playoff hockey. It can go on forever.”
Goal No. 500
March 13, 2007: Modano became the 39th player in NHL history to score 500 regular-season goals when he drove in a rebound in the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers at American Airlines Center.
“You get to 497, 498, you’re looking at the numbers, thinking, let’s do it. I was glad it was at home and done in front of the fans — I would have loved to break certain other records at home.
“You think of the 500 club, who’s in it, those guys were a big part of the game and you’re right there with them. The only other thing that crossed my mind was, I was two away from Mullen’s record.”
Modano tied and passed Joe Mullen’s record of 502 goals by an American in the NHL just a week later with two goals in Nashville.
The U.S.-born scoring record
Nov. 8, 2007: Back-to-back goals in the first five minutes at San Jose gave Modano his 1,232nd and 1,233rd points in 1,253 regular-season games, surpassing Phil Housley for the NHL record for points by an American-born player. The next day, he got a call from President George W. Bush.
“We flew to Scottsdale after Nashville to play Phoenix the day after. Our PR guys were saying, ‘If your phone rings around 10 in the morning, make sure you answer it.’ So I answered and the operator said, ‘I’ve got a call from Air Force One.’ [President Bush] said, ‘I wanted to congratulate you on your record. You’ve represented Dallas and Texas so great, and we appreciate what you’ve done and all your hard work.’ ”
to the fans
April 8, 2010: With Stars management electing not to offer a contract to the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer, Modano pondered retirement after the 2009-10 season. Late in the third period of his final home game as a Star, Modano’s prerecorded “thank you” to the fans hit the big screen and the fans responded with a raucous three-minute standing ovation, bringing Modano to tears on the bench. Then, with 1:47 to play, Modano scored the tying goal. He finished up the magical night with a goal in the shootout as Dallas downed the Ducks 3-2.
“I saw different guys going up on the video board thanking the fans and I was noticing mine hadn’t been up there quite yet. It was getting toward the end of game. The last TV timeout, it was up there … it was a long ovation, it just went on and on and it was tough to regroup after that. But then I got the goal to tie it up and that led to some more. The way the last 10 minutes went, I couldn’t have written it up any better. At that point I thought it would be over, too. I thought that was my last game at home and then we went to Minnesota, around there where it all started. I felt at that point it was end of my career.”
Modano went on to play one more season with the Detroit Red Wings, finishing with 561 goals, 813 assists and 1,374 points in 1,499 NHL games over 21 seasons. Dallas signed him to a one-day contract in 2011 so he could retire as a Star. When his No. 9 jersey is retired, it’ll join Neal Broten (7), Bill Masterton (19) and Bill Goldsworthy (8) in the American Airlines Center rafters.