[Editor's note: This piece was meant to run earlier this week until events unfolded as they did Monday night.]
It was a night built to honor the incredible career of Mike Modano, this most iconic American player of his generation and still the most recognizable hockey player in Dallas, yet it became so much more. Saturday night's game against the Minnesota Wild provided the perfect opportunity to retire Modano's No. 9 in a perfect marriage between the past and present, especially for a franchise that has struggled with moving on from the glory days of lore and the pressures that come with that remembrance.
It was the largest crowd to ever watch a hockey game in Dallas, over 19,000 on hand to witness a moment every fan has waited for since Modano retired as a Dallas Star in 2011. Drafted in 1988 and playing five seasons with Minnesota before coming to Dallas with the franchise, Modano has been touted as being just as important at spreading the sport of hockey in Texas as Wayne Gretzky was in California. His influence has been felt in Dallas for two decades and that impact was on full display as fans packed the AT&T Plaza and filled their seats 90 minutes before the game was even set to begin.
An entire generation of hockey players in North Texas will credit Modano for providing them with that initial love of the sport; his remarkable speed on skates and the unbelievable artistry he had with the puck on his stick while flying up the ice with his iconic jersey flowing in the breeze behind him -- this is what players wanted to emulate. They wanted to be the superstar, but more importantly they wanted to be the true hockey player that Mike Modano would come to represent in his career in Dallas.
It's true that Mike Modano is the highest scoring American-born player in the NHL, and holds nearly every Stars franchise record, yet Saturday night's ceremony showcased how he was so much more throughout his career. Modano only scored 50 goals in a season once in his career and never truly threatened for a Hart or a Rocket Richard trophy. He had the skill, for sure, but Modano become the ultimate example of a "team player" and one who put the good of the Stars above his own production and statistics.
Instead of focusing on how many goals he could score, and the national glory that might come with such numbers, Modano wanted to win. He allowed his coaches to refocus his game and to grow his skill set until Modano became one of the best all-around hockey players of his time and the poster child for what would make those Stars teams so memorable.
This is why Mike Modano continues to stand tall as the burning example of what Stars fans love and remember so much from those years from our hockey past; there's a reason why fans continue to glorify those iconic teams, and it's not just because of the Stanley Cup won in 1999.
Dallas Stars fans packed into the AT&T Plaza hours before the ceremony was set to begin to attend the "green carpet" event, where special guests and alumni walked one by one into the American Airlines Center. It was the absolutely perfect way to begin the night's festivities, which was also one hell of an emotional reunion for the best hockey team the Stars have ever put on the ice and the fans that have long adored them.
Modano stood on the stage with those players -- all wearing their old jerseys, an almost-complete reunion of that Cup-winning team -- and he recounted a career filled with incredible memories of the players and coaches who had a lasting impact on his life and career. We watched highlights of his career, laughed at his horribly awkward draft interview and once again cried at the memory of his final game in Dallas as a Star. Modano spoke of what it means to be a winner and how much the city of Dallas and state of Texas now means to him, and about what it took to build such a successful team and showcased once more the grandeur and prestige and triumph that Stars fans want so much to return to this Dallas team.
Even the Stanley Cup itself was brought on stage, the final and absolute symbol of what has been accomplished in the past and what this Stars team is striving so hard to recapture.
Which is why Saturday night was so much more than just a moment to remember Mike Modano's career and finally put his jersey in the rafters; it signaled the true transition from the memories of the past and the remarkable potential of the future. This season has been all about moving on from the confines of the memories of the past, from new jerseys and logos to a new general manager, coach and team captain. The Stars are younger, faster and more skilled that at any point in the past five seasons and that team sat on their bench and witnessed what could potentially be in their future.
It was certainly fitting, then, that just hours after an hour-long ceremony to honor Mike Modano that Tyler Seguin and company provided the fireworks in one hell of a win over the Minnesota Wild. Seguin and Jamie Benn represent that young and talented future of the franchise, with Seguin being touted as the "next Modano" from the moment he was traded to Dallas -- and it was Seguin and Benn that led their team forward on Saturday night, just as they have all season long.
This Dallas Stars team is just starting out on their own journey, forging their own identity and faced with their own hardships and tribulations in a city that puts the ultimate pressure on success. For the past five years the Stars, and their fans, could be accused of living too much in the past -- yet this season has been all about moving on and starting over.
Mike Modano's jersey retirement ceremony provided the perfect final chapter in a story that has already been told, a memorable epilogue to one hell of an era of hockey in Texas. The past and the future collided in one perfect night of hockey in Dallas, and now it's time for the next incredible story to begin...