March 07, 2014

Super Star : Mike Modano

This weekend the Dallas Stars will retire the jersey #9 to honour the face of their franchise: Super Star Mike Modano.

Highlights of his 21 year NHL career include a Stanley Cup championship, 3 Olympic Games, and with 561 goals and 1,374 points - both of which are records for U.S.-born players.

Modano started his career in Minnesota with the North Stars. The whole franchise moved to Dallas in 1993, where Modano matured into one of the games greatest players.

"His speed was his strength," said Chris Chelios, many times a teammate of Modano's in international hockey including at the the Olympics. "He had a great shot - hard and heavy - and he was tough to stop once he made a turn and generated speed. He was a great ambassador for the U.S. team."

In fact many might argue that Modano (an Olympic silver medalist in 2002) could give Chelios a good run for the title of best American hockey player of all time. Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Pat Lafontaine would also make that short list.

Though he ended his career with one quiet season in his hometown of Detroit, Mike Modano will forever be remembered as a Star in every sense of the word. North Star. Lone Star. Super Star.

Memories of Minnesota

Mike Modano was drafted 1st overall by the Minnesota North Stars in 1988, directly ahead of Trevor Linden. Though he played only 4 seasons in the Twin Cities, he had lots of good memories in the State of Hockey. Here's some quotes I found in an old Phil Coffey interview with NHL.com:
"I think the greatest memory was my first game against the Islanders and obviously the Finals in 1991," Modano said of his tenure with the North Stars. "I think one of the toughest days was packing up and leaving Minneapolis for Dallas. But I think, the good and bad part about being drafted first overall is that you are going to the worst team in the League. There are expectations; there is pressure to perform and play and when it wasn't happening, you know, I think the fans were getting frustrated with me. I was getting frustrated and you just go into a tail spin and the harder you try and the harder you work to get out of it, it seemed tougher for things to happen.

"But my times there were great. I won't change them for anything. The family I lived with, my first year and the friends I made, and spending my summers in Minneapolis were a special time.

"I still have a lot of friends that I keep in contact," he said. "They come down here and visit me on occasion."
More D in Big D

Ownership moved the North Stars to the Lone Star State to house the team in Dallas. It was in Dallas that he matured from offensive star to, eventually, one of the best two way pivots in the game. The result - a Stanley Cup championship in 1999 and the desired reputation as a gritty hockey warrior as much as an offensive star.

Kevin Allen of the USA Today covered his conversion nicely back in 2001:
"Scouts always referred to Modano's grace and talent excess, and few talked about his beastliness because there was no beastliness to discuss. He was a quiet teenager, sometimes too docile. He had speed to be sure, but scouts wondered whether he would use his speed more like a roadrunner or a cheetah. Could he be a predator, or was he destined to be prey? Would he become a pure strain of offensive dominance or would he evolve into the more complex version — a player capable of excelling at both ends of the ice?

Anyone who has been watching Modano, especially over the past three seasons, knows that he has become a much more complete player than anyone thought was possible, particularly in his first few seasons when he fought against then-coach Bob Gainey's attempts to teach him a defensive mantra.

Today, Modano, 31, is matched against the top offensive stars in the game, and he played well enough last season defensively that he was a legitimate contender for the Selke Trophy. He's still seems like an expensive sports car on a road filled with all-terrain vehicles, but he has more under the hood than just raw speed."
As much respect as Modano gained for his dedicated two-way play, many of us will always remember him for his speed and his highlight reel goals. He scored 561 goals and 813 assists for 1374 points in 1499 NHL games, with another 58 goals and 88 assists for 146 points in 176 Stanley Cup games. He scored 30 or more goals nine times during his career, and topped the 20-goal plateau 16 times. His best season was 1993-94 when he scored 50 goals.
"His numbers would be a bit higher if he played on a team that was more wide-open in their attack," says former goalie Brian Hayward. "In Dallas, they put a lot of emphasis on the center working hard in the defensive zone and Mike does that. So, he starts out much further back than a lot of other centers around the League when he goes on the attack."

"Modano has an explosive skating stride and that is one of his greatest attributes," Hayward continues. "But, from a goaltending standpoint, his biggest strength is that he can shoot the puck mid-stride. Not a lot of players can do that, most have to stride, then glide and shoot. Mike can get his shot off in full stride, which makes the goaltender's job that much more difficult."

Hull of an Endorsement

Brett Hull, Modano's long time teammate and friend, called Modano a "jack of all trades and the master of all of them. He can shoot, pass, skate, play defense, kill penalties and run the power play. And he is one of the top three physically fit individuals I've ever played with."

Ask who Hull thought was the greatest hockey player in American history, he quickly chose Modano.

“He’s the best,” said Brett Hull, Modano’s close friend and former teammate. “There’s some that are right on his tail, but he is the best and his numbers prove it.”

Last word today goes to Kevin Allen of the USA Today. He summed it up about perfectly when he wrote:
Modano wasn't just a player; he was a spectacle.


Anonymous said...

Wow. No comments on this player??? That's just sad. Modano was a incredible player and just the loyalty that he showed to his franchise by reinventing himself as a player took courage and a suppression of his ego. I say ego because he had to know that going to a unknown and media neglected hockey market meant that a player of his caliber would not be noticed if his offensive numbers weren't on top of the top. He sacraficed his hockey fame to win a Cup by playing Gainey's system.

Incredible skater and a incredible defensive center. Chelios and Hull were amazing American players but the dimensions to Modano's game was just unparalleled.

Anonymous said...

The boy went to the WHL with braces and good looks, likely viewed by the Canadian hockey elite as a 'pretty boy' Regardless, he left there a man and the rest is history. Somewhere many pundits have ranked him in the top 100 of all time. So be it, ranked here or there, a Hall Of Famer nonetheless.