Commentary

Stars aligned for Mike Modano

Updated: October 15, 2012, 2:17 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

DALLAS -- It has been suggested that Mike Modano belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Dallas sports.

On the eve of his induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in the market where he not only helped the Dallas Stars win a championship but helped embed the sport of hockey on the Texas sports psyche, it's hard to argue that notion.

If ever there was a player whose personality suited his hockey environs, it was Modano.

"I knew it the day I got off the flight on my first visit" to Dallas, Modano told ESPN.com. "Just the Southern hospitality, that Southern attitude. It was different from growing up in the Midwest, in Detroit. It's just right down my alley."

When you catch up with Modano, still lean and lanky, well-tanned from a recent trip with former teammates including Hall of Famer Brett Hull, there is no question that if not on the Mount Rushmore of sport in Dallas, Modano earns a place on the rock face for laid back.

There has been for many years been a symbiotic relationship between Modano and hockey in Texas and you don't have to dig very deep before you come across Modano's shadow, his influence in this state.

On this night, he is signing autographs at the Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas, where he is a minority owner of the Central Hockey League's Allen Americans with former teammates Richard Matvichuk, Ed Belfour and Craig Ludwig, and longtime NHLer Steve Duchesne. It is both a reminder of Modano's success with a dominant Dallas Stars team but also a stark reminder of the passage of time. Ludwig's twin boys, Trevor and Tyler, are defensemen with the Americans. They recall their forays as young boys into the Dallas dressing room and how Modano was always open and agreeable to some good-natured chats. Often those chats ended with a happy sendoff of something along the lines of, "Hey, boys, eat my shorts."

"He always had some sort of slogan," Trevor Ludwig recalled, both of the boys grinning at the memory.

Matvichuk played junior hockey against Modano when Modano was starring for the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League before joining him in Dallas for what was a dominant run in the 1990s. Although the Stars have fallen on hard times since the 2004-05 lockout, they, along with Detroit and Colorado, formed a powerful triumvirate at the top of the Western Conference standings. Between 1994-95 and 2001-02, the teams combined for six Stanley Cups and two Stanley Cup finals appearances.

"He was the ultimate class act," Matvichuk said.

"He could do everything at full speed," said Matvichuk, now an assistant GM and coach with the Allen Americans. "He had the knack. He just knew where to go. When we played together with the Stars, you just knew that when Mike Modano was going, we weren't going to be beat."

In an era populated with some of the greatest ever -- Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman -- Matvichuk adds Modano to that list.

"I put Modano in that class," he said.

"Mo is the lead singer in the rock band," Ludwig added. "I was the stage hand.

"You're proud, very proud to be part of his success."

Sitting in a suite in Allen while the Americans tangled with nearby rivals from Fort Worth in their final preseason game, Modano acknowledged his induction into the U.S. Hall of Fame has given him pause to reflect on a career that has ended with superlatives but began inauspiciously. He was a hyperactive child prone to getting into trouble, and a co-worker of his father's suggested young Modano give hockey a try.

"Baseball wasn't doing it," Modano said. "We went skating and that was it. My whole demeanor changed. I didn't get into trouble as much."

After being taken with the No. 1 overall pick by the Minnesota North Stars in 1988, Modano and the rest of the North Stars moved south after the 1993 season. He has never left town, really, even when he finished out his NHL career with a season with his hometown Detroit Red Wings.

On Monday he will see his remarkable career closed off in fitting style as he is honored in Dallas along with Ed Olczyk and Lou Lamoriello.

He admits to being taken aback that not only was he called to be inducted in the U.S. Hall of Fame but that he would be further honored by having the ceremony in his adopted hometown.

USA Hockey has moved the ceremony around in recent years. Grand Forks, Denver, Boston, Buffalo and Chicago have all hosted the event. But it is a nod to Modano's stature not just within the National Hockey League but within the American hockey community that Dallas was selected as this year's location.

"Having it here is really special," Modano said.

Modano admits that in recent days, sitting out on his back deck with his cuo of coffee and his dogs, he finds himself reflecting on the moments.

The years of contending after the Stars moved to Dallas.

The seminal Stars' Stanley Cup win in 1999.

The 561 goals, most among American-born players. His 1,374 points likewise tops among American-born players.

The 1996 World Cup of Hockey that saw Americans put their stamp on international hockey after a long absence.

The chance to play for Herb Brooks in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, where the Americans won a silver medal, one of three Olympic tournaments in which Modano took part.

"It's amazing with all that how quickly it went past," he said. "It's hard to believe it all happened in such a short period of time. You think about that as well."

[+] EnlargeMike Modano
AP Photo/LM Otero Mike Modano retired from the NHL on Sept. 23, 2011.

If there are moments of reflection for Modano there are also moments of wondering what lies ahead.

This moment in Dallas has clearly whetted his appetite for a possible call from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"I think about it," Modano acknowledged.

His former teammates and business partners believe it's a no-brainer.

"For me, he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer," Matvichuk said.

But as for the rest, Modano seems pretty Zen.

His high-profile marriage to Willa Ford, an actress and "Dancing With The Stars" personality, ended and he has no real desire to follow in the footsteps of his peers, Steve Yzerman, Al MacInnis, former teammate Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, who have all moved fairly quickly into management roles around the NHL.

Instead, one of the best American players of all time has spent more than two decades being told what to do and how to act and where to go, and he's pretty happy marching to his own tune right now.

"I'm really enjoying retirement," he said with a smile. "No one likes my time more than me."

Modano has enjoyed his first months as a part owner of the Central Hockey League team while also committing to playing golf and traveling.

He is also looking at putting more work into his foundation, which has, among other things, aimed to help abused children and teens, wounded veterans and assist with canine rescue.

Not that Monday night won't resonate for the native of Livonia, Mich.

His buddies have been bugging him about whether there might be a few tears shed Monday in Dallas. And if they have acknowledged that there might be a few shed from the audience, it's also a good bet there might be a few shed as Modano recalls his own career.

"I had a lot harder time letting go than I thought," Modano said.