Mike Modano has received almost every reward imaginable throughout his hockey career, from the Stanley Cup to having his number retired to seven time all-star. They even changed the rules for the Calder Trophy because the only person who was a better rookie was 31 years old and a veteran of the famed Red Army machine before coming to the NHL.
Tonight he receives what may be the final honor of his tenure as a player and arguably the highest one hockey can bestow upon a player - he will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Modano is one of six men who will be enshrined tonight, alongside long-time rivals Rob Blake, Peter Forsberg and Dominik Hasek on the players side as well as Bill McCreary as a referee and the late Pat Burns as a builder. The ceremony will be shown in the NHL Network in the US and TSN2 in Canada. The HHOF website shows the broadcast as being tape-delayed to start at 7 p.m. central, though the NHL Network schedule shows the broadcast starting live at 6:30 p.m. Take that as you will.
We've written long stories about what Modano meant to the Dallas Stars franchise, and the wonderful jersey retirement ceremony put on by the franchise last March encapsulated it perfectly. But on a larger level, whether that's international play or just what Modano's talent meant about the state of USA Hockey's development system, he's had a huge impact on the game as a whole, both inside and outside of the Metroplex.
Here's a few excerpts from stories about Modano as he prepares to enter the Hall:
Invariably, the stories focused on Modano's humanity, his selflessness, his generosity. During the 2004-05 lockout, for instance, Modano made a point of searching out trainers and other hockey-related staffers to make sure they were doing OK without hockey and, in some cases, without a paycheck. He delivered checks to them and insisted they call if they needed help.
"These were not small checks," Micheletti said, recounting the stories passed along to him. "Even now it kind of chokes me up talking about it." [ESPN.com]
Asked where he would have ended up had hockey not worked out, Modano laughed and said, "juvie, and then my dad's construction business." To America's great fortune, and to the pride of Michigan, hockey not only worked out - Modano materialized into Hall of Fame greatness. [Detroit Free Press]
He will be introduced by Hall of Famer and good friend Brett Hull, and expects to be joined during the festivities by Joe Nieuwendyk and Ed Belfour, who were recently inducted into the Hall off the 1999 Stars Stanley Cup team.
"I think that’s the best part of it," Modano said. "To have your family there and teammates there, it just makes everything perfect. There’s going to be a lot of tears, but there’s also going to be a lot of great memories and looking back." [DallasNews.com]
There was a joke about the length of the Stars jersey retirement ceremony, that it was going to be "45 minutes plus tears." And Modano can joke about that emotional side of himself easily. But honestly, that emotional side was one of the things that most endeared him to the average sports fan, whether or not they knew anything about hockey when the Stars arrived in Texas.
Tearing up at emotional goals, being blunt with his praise as well as his criticism and yes, putting his foot in his mouth on several memorable occasions, were all as much a part of Modano's appeal as that jersey behind him flapping in his breeze. He was a regular, relateable guy who laughed at the things we all did and refused to simply speak the company line, even when that was a little bit of a public relations disaster. He was a long-time favorite of The Ticket for a reason.
Perhaps he wouldn't have been the hockey player he was without that side of him. After all, it's been widely reported that his parents put him into hockey as an outlet for his endless, off-the-wall energy as a child so that it could be funneled in a more productive way.
As the anecdote from the ESPN article illustrates, he genuinely cared about people around him in the organization and his life, from the unsung workers in the front off ice to life-long friends he found in teammates.
Which is why it's fitting that Hull will be the player introducing Modano tonight at the ceremony. The two didn't play together that long - a few international tournaments and Hull's three years in Dallas - but they were a show like no other when they took to the ice, the original super best friends on a line in green.
That's not to say there were no struggles. The Stars rode a roller coaster when Modano was here, ending on the best storybook ending that wasn't, when everything at the AAC came up Modano on one glorious night but the team's superstar and bank-run front office couldn't come to a consensus beyond that. There were some befuddling years of what felt like underachievement in the playoffs.
But the highs were magical, whether that was at the 1996 World Cup, the 1999 Stanley Cup or any of those single rushes up the ice against the California teams who were so glad to see him finally retire. And that doesn't even begin to mention all he did for the sport as an ambassador in a town that had no idea what type of special person they were importing along with a sport.
I'm going to close on a paraphrase of a line Razor said at the end of his speech when the Stars retired Modano's jersey, because I think it was as elegant a sentence to describe Modano's career as I've ever heard.
Modano may have been hell on wheels for his mom as a boy, but for us, he was poetry in motion.