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Modano understanding about missing U.S. cut

Tuesday, 01.05.2010 / 7:27 PM / All-Access Vancouver

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- Mike Modano had an uneasy suspicion he wouldn't be getting that congratulatory call from Team USA General Manager Brian Burke on New Year's Day.

"I had a little sense of that in Chicago (at Team USA orientation camp), and not just from (Burke)," Modano told NHL.com. "You could just see where this was heading, so I was kind of prepared for it. I wanted to maybe make a little push for it, but it's evident that there are a lot of great young players that have great futures so it's important to get them involved in it."

Modano, 39, happened to be the oldest invitee at the camp held in Chicago in August.

Despite the fact he wasn't invited to participate in his fourth straight Olympic Games, an admirable Modano spoke about the current state of Olympic hockey in the United States and how excited he remains for the upcoming tournament in Vancouver.

"The development camp in Ann Arbor (National Team Developmental Program) is fantastic," Modano said. "The fact the U.S. reached the gold-medal game against Canada (in the World Junior Championships) is a prime example of getting these kids involved at an early age and playing at that level -- getting them involved in international hockey.

"There's a great growth of hockey all over the States and everybody's coming from all over the place," he admitted. "It's not just the Midwest and East like we've always talked about, but kids from California, Denver, Texas and Tennessee and places from all over. The talent pool is getting a little bigger and with that, you're probably going to be able to plug in some new players who are really good."

That was certainly the case this season as Burke and his managerial staff turned to youth -- the average age of the USA roster is 26.5. Defenseman Brian Rafalski is the oldest at 36 and forward Patrick Kane is the youngest at 21.

Modano smiled when asked if he felt any disappointment after Burke had contacted him.

"That was one thing I was excited and looking forward to this season -- was a chance to play in the Olympics one last time and play in Vancouver where it would be a great atmosphere in Canada," Modano said. "(A change) is going to happen inevitably, but you just hope you could have delayed it a little longer. But that happens and you have to accept it. It's hard when change does happen because you're so used to it. USA Hockey has been a big part of my life, but I'll be a big fan watching now."

During orientation camp, Burke praised Modano for his years of service to USA Hockey.

"I think if you asked people to identify the greatest American player ever -- if Mike Modano's name isn't first, he's definitely the second," Burke told the media over the summer. "Sure, his role has changed and his ice time and power-play time have diminished, but he's accepted that gracefully and still performs at a high level."

Modano, the Stars' all-time leading scorer with 1,344 points in 1,428 games in 19-plus seasons, was out of the lineup for 13 games at the start of the season with a rib injury that was slow to heal. The setback certainly diminished his chances at cracking the Olympic roster.

The Livonia, Mich., native knows this year's exuberant group of Olympians offers a different approach than that of recent Olympic players.

"We've always had an older team with more experienced players and guys who have been there before," he said. "Now you have a lot of 21-22-23-year-olds, so there's a little adjustment in growing up and what they have to go through."

Still, if any player named to Team USA's roster suffers a substantial injury from this point forward, there's always that chance Burke will contact Modano and tell him to pack his backs and head to the coastal city in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia to join the American squad.

"I had a little sense of that in Chicago (at Team USA orientation camp), and not just from (Burke).  You could just see where this was heading, so I was kind of prepared for it. I wanted to maybe make a little push for it, but it's evident that there are a lot of great young players that have great futures so it's important to get them involved in it." -- Mike Modano on being left off U.S. Olympic roster
As an outsider looking in this time around, Modano feels this year's Olympics could be one of the most competitive tournaments since the introduction of NHL players in 1998.

"Look at all the other countries -- they have their big guys playing and they're stacked, but you never can underestimate a team that's inexperienced that's just going out there and playing hard," Modano said of the Americans. "When you're playing and having fun, sometimes you surprise people. In the Olympics, you just have to play that one really good game to get into the semis -- then you never know what can happen from that. It's tough and you have your work cut out. The teams look good and you have the best players, so that's going to make it tough."

Burke admitted one of the hardest parts of his job was notifying those former U.S. Olympians that the program was moving in a different direction.

"We've had a generation of players who have represented our country with great ferocity and have answered the bell every time," Burke said. "To steal a line from (television journalist) Tom Brokaw, 'This was our greatest generation as far as what's been accomplished the last 15 years' by that group of the Leetch's, the Chelios', the Amonte's, the Modano's and on and on."

Contact Mike Morreale at: mmorreale@nhl.com.