23 September 2011

The #1 Star


 Note: Aside from the word "spine", there is nothing about yoga in this post. Since NHL.com shut down its fan site, I have nowhere else to post this. Still, I hope you enjoy.

     The sweater.

     The sweater flapping in the breeze.

     The sweater flapping in the breeze as he glided down the ice with indescribable grace and ease.

     That is Mike Modano.

     One of my sports heroes – the last sports hero of my youth -- hangs it up today.
Mike Modano will shortly sign a one day contract with the Dallas Stars, and then announce his retirement from the game he loves and graced for 21 seasons.

     The back story: the Minnesota North Stars packed their sticks and pucks and came south to Dallas in1993. Prior to that, my knowledge of ice hockey was as follows:

Watching one game of the ’75 Stanley Cup Final as a youngster.

The 1980 US Olympic upset of the Soviet Union.

Watching the odd playoff game on ESPN.

     When the move was announced, I was sucked in immediately. Most of my friends sniffed at me because it was hockey. A game from Canada. On ice. I didn’t care. I knew that it was fast paced, hard hitting, and players would stop and punch each other. Yes, there were very talented players, but that was lost among the pushing, hitting, and fighting. I knew there was a flashy player named Modano, but I didn’t think much about him.

     Then I saw him play.

      I saw how he did magical things with the puck. I watched him stop, turn on a dime, and be at top speed in one or two strides. He seemed to know where everyone was on the ice, and where everyone would be three seconds from now. He could deftly redirect a puck, or he could wind up and seemingly drill pucks through netminders.  In those early days, Modano was counted on to score, score, and score some more. He was also counted on to sell the game of hockey in North Texas. He did whatever was asked of him to help grow the Stars’ fan base. Interviews, appearances, whatever it took, Mike was there with his million watt smile and GQ looks. Men envied him. Women loved him. We all watched and cheered as he helped bring hockey to the forefront of Dallas’ sports conciousness.

     Of course, looks only go so far. In Dallas, where the Cowboys’ success has instilled a “Championship or Nothing” mentality, results matter. With Ken Hitchcock behind the bench, and an influx of talented players (Nieuwendyk, Hull, Zubov, Belfour, et. al), the Stars became a power in the NHL.  In 1999, they ascended the mountain, winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. Dallas came close to repeating the following year, falling to New Jersey in the Final.

     Through it all, while being known as the “Face of the Franchise”, Modano never acted that way. Many have referred to him as, “… a superstar who doesn’t know he is a superstar”. There were personal and financial issues that arose, but he always acted with class and dignity.

     This past season, after Dallas bid him adieu (a move I will never forgive), Modano went home to Michigan to play with the Detroit Red Wings (the hated rivals). It was really sickening to see him with the winged wheel on his chest. He played in only 40 games due to injury, then spent the summer considering his future.

     I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to watch Mike Modano in person on a number of occasions. My favorite moment, aside from the Cup win, came on March 13, 2007, when Mike scored his 500th goal. I was there. Still have the ticket. It was one of those moments that send chills down your spine. Modano finished his career with 561 goals and 1,374 points, most ever by an American born player. He owns all sorts of franchise records as a Star. He played with grace and grit. He gave us a new hero here in town, and he never acted like the spoiled child that many athletes have become.

     Watch a highlight or two. None of what I said here will matter, for you will be mesmerized by one thing.

The sweater.

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