Many years ago when I was a young child, a Super Target was opening up about five to ten minutes away from my neighborhood. I’m sure my mother was happy to another place to shop, but besides having a video game section, there wasn’t any real reason for a kid my age to be excited about it.
Yet early in the morning on the day of the grand opening, my brother and I dragged my parents out of bed so we could get to Target before anyone else. You see, in order to raise publicity, Target had brought in a local celebrity for the store’s opening - Dallas Stars forward Mike Modano.
Modano wasn’t even my favorite player - that distinction belonged to Jason Arnott - for reasons I can’t quite remember. However, I still stood in line, waiting patiently for what felt like hours just to get a chance to see Modano up close and get his autograph. Because even if he wasn’t my favorite player, he was still the Mike Modano.
When Norm Green moved the team to Dallas, hockey fans weren’t really quite sure what to expect. The North Stars were moving from Minnesota, the state of hockey, to Texas, a place where locals could see snow maybe once a year if they were lucky. No one knew if Texans would embrace the sport of ice hockey or completely ignore it in favor of football or other warm weather sports.
Modano was one of the key reasons that the Stars were able to quickly gain a fanbase in Texas. Modano was only 23 years old at the time, yet he was well on his way to becoming a top player in the NHL. He was the perfect player to market as the face of the franchise, to be the first person Texans thought of when they heard the word “hockey.”
Of course, Modano was more than just promotional marketability. Up until the 2004-2005 lockout, Modano was the team’s leading scorer all but three times, and normally by a hefty margin. Two of the times he wasn’t in the lead, he had missed a considerable amount of games due to injury, and yet still managed to finish second in scoring both times.
After the lockout, Modano led the team in scoring one more time and would remain in the top five every year until the 2009-2010 season - his last as a Dallas Star. In 2007, Modano broke Phil Housley’s record for the most career points scored by an American, against the San Jose Sharks. Modano’s record of 1374 points still stands to this day.
Modano continued to be involved with the Stars organization even after his playing days were over. He joined the team’s front office as alternate governor in 2013, a role which he held briefly until moving to Arizona. When the team revealed their new jerseys and logo re-branding in 2013, I remember Daryl “Razor” Reaugh commenting that the team stayed with a green color partly because Modano convinced Tom Gaglardi that green was an important part of the team’s heritage and identity.
Less than a year later, the Stars held a ceremony to raise Modano’s #9 into the rafters, which made him the first player to receive that honor since the franchise moved to Dallas. And with that, his legend was forever enshrined in Stars history.
I didn’t write this piece to give you a brief history on Mike Modano; the point is to remind all of us just how large of an impact Modano has had on the franchise. Sure, past players like Jere Lehtinen and Sergei Zubov deserve their own recognition, and fans can only hope that the likes of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn reach a similar status one day.
But will all due respect to those players, none of them will ever quite reach the status of Modano. They can never be known as the first face of the franchise, or bring as many new fans to the Stars and the sport of hockey as Modano did. Even if Benn and Seguin manage to bring multiple Stanley Cups home to Dallas (Modano only won the Cup once) in the coming seasons, I still wouldn’t consider them to be as impactful to the Stars as Modano was during his tenure in Dallas.
So when you’re watching the game tonight against the Minnesota Wild and see Modano receive the recognition he rightfully deserves, prepare to hear a lot of comparisons between him and current players (especially Seguin). However, know that no matter how similar those skaters might be, there will only ever be one Mike Modano.