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DALLAS -- No Dallas Stars player will ever wear the No. 9 again.
The number, forever connected with the speedy and skilled Mike Modano, was raised to the rafters on Saturday night, the fourth number in the franchise's history to be so honored. The other three were more Minnesota North Stars numbers than Dallas. Most of Modano's career, including his Stanley Cup win in 1999, was spent in Dallas.
"From the moment I got off that plane in 1993, Dallas felt like home," Modano told a sold-out crowd of 19,109 at American Airlines Center during an hour-long ceremony Saturday prior to the Stars' 4-3 win against, the Minnesota Wild. "You've allowed me to be a part of your lives and you to mine. It's been an amazing ride. It couldn't have been done without you people.
"We asked you to give us a chance and you stuck with us and for that, I'm grateful."
Modano was emotional even before he got up to speak. He watched, nervously from the tunnel, as several prominent guests made their way to the stage at center ice and talked about Modano's hockey career and what he meant to the sport in Texas.
In one of the videos that Modano narrated about his hockey life, he says: "Now people ask me where I'm from and I say, Texas -- Dallas, Texas."
A huge curtain dropped shortly thereafter to reveal 20 members of the 1999 Stanley Cup -- in their jerseys with "Modano 9" patches -- waiting on Modano to arrive. That group included some familiar names from the franchise's only championship winner, including Jere Lehtinen, Ed Belfour, Jamie Langenbrunner, Guy Carbonneau, Derian Hatcher and, of course, Brett Hull.
"World-class skill at world-class speed (and a) world-class guy -- that's what Mike Modano is," Hull said after walking the carpet. "Mike Modano took a franchise from Minnesota, took it to Dallas, Texas. And the only reason we're here standing today is because of Mike Modano. And I think that's all you need to know."
Modano ended the ceremony by walking toward his No. 9 banner on one end of the ice. Before it was raised, Modano was greeted by Dallas-Fort Worth sports royalty in the form of Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, newly-retired Texas Ranger Michael Young, Mavericks' Rolando Blackman, whose No. 22 is also in the rafters at AAC, and former Cowboys quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman.
All of those players, like Modano, have become local sports icons. That group, and a host of others, strolled down what the Stars called the "victory green carpet" as fans lined the nearly 100 yards of distance from the street to the arena door at AT&T Plaza 90 minutes before the ceremony began.
|The Stars retired Mike Modano's No. 9 during a ceremony Saturday night.|
Besides his former teammates, some of the front office folks and coaches that helped Modano along the way were in attendance, signing autographs for the crowd and sharing their memories of Modano.
St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, an assistant GM when the Stars won the Cup, and later the Stars' GM, believes Modano has a chance to be considered the best two-way player to ever play the game.
"He put us on the map," Armstrong said. "The sacrifices Mike had to make to play in a Ken Hitchcock system [defensively-minded]. He probably would have had 300 or 400 more points had he played in a different system."
Modano ended up with more points (1,374) and goals (561) than any other American-born hockey player in history. The No. 1 overall draft pick of the Minnesota North Stars in 1988, Modano arrived in Dallas in 1993 and was the face of the franchise, charged not only with scoring goals on the ice, but teaching the game to Texas football fans off it.
"Mike was a perfect candidate for us coming to Minnesota when we were trying to save that franchise," said former owner Norman Green, who brought the team from Minnesota to Dallas. "He was the perfect image -- he was nice, he was good looking, he was talented. The first year he was there, we went to the Stanley Cup Final, and he was sensational. Then, when that didn't work out, we came to Dallas and he became the face of the franchise here, and it was perfect. You look at that, and how lucky was that? That's why we have all of these fans here now."
And those fans cheered Modano constantly on Saturday. He got a nearly five-minute standing ovation as he stood at the podium, notes in hand, ready to speak. The 43-year-old was emotional as he began, thanking all of those who made his career possible. That included Hitchcock, who coached the Cup team.
"He pushed me to extremes and demanded a lot from me," Modano said. "He made me find out what I was capable of doing as a player and achieving."
Modano was grateful for former Stars assistant coach Rick Wilson, who looked after him in Detroit and guided him along the way. And he had trouble getting the words out as he talked about his parents, Mike Sr. and Karen.
"You guys sacrificed a lot for me," Modano said. "Thank you."
After the ceremony, Modano couldn't stop smiling, pleased that so many people showed up to share in the honor with him. The Stanley Cup was there, too, carried out by Hatcher, the captain of that 1999 team.
It was that group, more than any other, which has meant the most to Modano.
"We had such a good team, chemistry, personality-wise," Modano said. "It's rare. It just doesn't happen very often."
Neither does getting your number retired. Modano now joins that exclusive list.