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Retiring 9: Defending Big D's Chat with Mike Modano Ahead of Saturday's Ceremony

"It's one of those things that you hope that when it starts it drags on for a long time"

Ronald Martinez

Mike Modano's #9 will ascend to the rafters of the American Airlines Center Saturday evening, in case you hadn't heard. It's kind of a big deal.

A big enough deal, in fact, that Defending Big D actually got to speak with "Mo" ahead of the festivities- And we hear they are absolutely not to be missed. A historic occasion to rival any Stars moment at the AAC is anticipated.

Mike's been anticipating it for some time.

"I am excited about it," Mike said, when I asked his predominant emotion as the evening approached. "It's one of those things that you hope that when it starts it drags on for a long time. It's one of those moments that you hope that you don't miss anything, that you don't miss seeing anyone who came into town for it, but I know it's going to feel like it's over in an instant. Hopefully we enjoy it as much as we can and kind of let it all soak in."

That sounds, I told him jokingly, like some people describe their wedding day.

"Exactly. Hopefully we'll have a lot of pictures and a lot of video, but yeah, similar to a wedding day. It'll be over in an instant and then it's 'geez, what just happened?'"

The Stars have been rehearsing the ceremony this week. They believe this is a big moment for their franchise. Coupled with the victory-green roll-out in the summer, they take pride in these big events. They feel they're returning to relevancy from the dormant period that was a transition from Tom Hicks to Tom Gagliardi.

Honoring this icon- What one single athlete defines a team's history more than Modano?- is perhaps overdue, but the cornucopia of extenuating circumstances (lockouts, ownership changes, 42 lenders, etc) has abated. It's time now.

It's a celebration of the man. Of his career. Of what we all witnessed. So was the "Modano game" in April of 2010. So was the retirement press conference. But those were tinged (saturated?) with sadness. How does this event stack up to those?

"Probably pure happiness," Modano said of this one.

I thought I'd have one more year in Dallas to kind of really go through a formal goodbye.

"I think the retirement thing, it almost feels like a part of your life that you had to say goodbye to. You had moments where that was very hard to do and it's still, to this day, something that just kind of... It's hard to turn the page on sometimes and start a new chapter, but there's a lot of exciting things I'm looking forward to. I'm excited about the future, so I'm pretty lucky to experience some new stuff coming up."

New stuff like twin children with wife Allison, but the pain of having to move on from playing is still evident in his voice. Even now that competitive part of him is still there.

"I think that last game (April 2010) was kind of tough," he continued. "I thought I'd have one more year in Dallas to kind of really go through a formal goodbye. It was kind of quick and abrupt and it felt like it didn't... it didn't end the way I wanted it to end."

It didn't end the way most of us wanted it to end, and hearing him talk about it now it makes those vivid memories of that night all the more relevant. The writing seemed to be on the wall before we got there, but the full realization of the thing, not only on our side but on his as well, came during the proceedings. The dramatic tying goal. The shootout. The emotional outpouring that followed.

Can Saturday night live up to this one?

Now comes Saturday night. A chance for him and for us to celebrate together. To reciprocate fully this time, without any of the sadness.

"Yeah, I think that's pretty accurate," he said of that idea. "I think there was never really a formal goodbye, per-say, to the fans or to one-another. I think there was just that abrupt ending and then I went on to Detroit, so maybe this kind of gives a final closure to things to celebrate 22 years. Certainly having a number retired, it's quite a thrill- And the impact the city has had on me and I feel I had on the city, cultivating a sport down here where we thought it would never work and never turn out the way it has, so...I fed off the city and the city fed off of me and it's been a good relationship."

Not that things are over or coming to a close. Some weeks Modano is as visible as he ever was here, and after 20 years of letting North Texas residents watch him grow up, their favorite son continues to get the magnifying glass treatment on his personal life.

Does retirement afford him more privacy than when he was a player? Or has it actually been the other way around?

"I don't know," he mused. "I think you had more privacy while playing because you could really deflect a lot of things because primarily your business was playing hockey and your focal point was that. Your day-to-day thing was making sure you were doing your job correctly, so I think you could deflect a lot of the requests and things you had to do off the ice."

"There's a little less privacy because you had that hockey to protect yourself. I find myself probably a little busier than I was when I was playing."

He's been generous with his time this week, for sure, as he's been accommodating since the day they arrived in Dallas. He's never shied away from that role- From being the face and the ambassador of not only the team, but the whole game for the area. A baby boy and a baby girl may finally slow him down a tick.

"Then I can tell everybody I can't do anything," he jokes. "I gotta do kid stuff. So that's perfect."

Modano continues to be involved in growing the game with The Little Rookies program and the upcoming Try Hockey For Free day programs, and he remembers how important hockey was to his maturation as a young man.

"I feel as a kid hockey changed my life for me and it really kind of evolved me as a kid at an early age," he told me. "I think it kind of kept me out of a lot of trouble I was getting in prior to playing hockey. So you feel like there's probably a lot of kids that have a lot of the same issues growing up- A lot of energy, a lot of built up aggression and things they can't release in some sports, and for me hockey was that kind of release."

All of us who play in the area owe the man, his many teammates, Jim Lites and even Tom Hicks, among many, many others, a debt of gratitude every time we lace them up and get the legs going out there. Saturday can be a celebration of that, too.

"It was something that excited me about here- to grow the sport and be that guy that turned people on to the game of hockey," he continued. "That became important to me as the time went on here and you saw that there was a lot of kids that were interested in the sport."

Getting kids interested from a young age is key. People who play the game take ownership of the game. They stick around as fans.

"I think that once they try it they have a whole different perception and respect for it, for sure", he said.

The man who has given us so many memories over the years will continue to give, helping to sell the Stars and helping to sell the game.

The memories created tomorrow, however, are as much for him as they are for us, this time, and nothing is going to stand in the way of that.

"They could get blown out 8-0 and I don't think it will ruin it," he joked.

Let's not put that to the test, but let's do honor the man who made so much in North Texas possible, including this community.