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Former Dallas teammates call Modano franchise icon

Thursday, 09.22.2011 / 11:27 AM / NHL Insider

By Steve Hunt - NHL.com Correspondent


FRISCO, Texas -- Being the face of a franchise is not a role just any player can take on. It takes a special individual -- not just on the ice, but off it, as well.

During his 21 NHL seasons -- 20 of which were spent as either a Minnesota North Star or Dallas Star, Mike Modano epitomized exactly what the face of a franchise should be.

In 1,499 NHL games, he finished with 1,374 points, the most ever for an American-born player. He was an eight-time NHL All-Star and part of the Stars' Stanley Cup-winning team in 1999.

Current Dallas General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk was a teammate of Modano's for nearly seven full seasons with the Stars, and those are times he still remembers very well.

"He made me a better player because I wanted to push myself to be a good No. 2 center playing behind him," Nieuwendyk said. 'What he's meant for the city and for USA Hockey speaks for itself. In his prime, he was the best player I've played with. He had a wonderful career."

"Simply the best Dallas Star to ever put on the jersey. It's going to be a lot of years before anyone comes around like Mike Modano again. He is the epitome of what it is to be a Dallas Star." -- Steve Ott

When the North Stars moved from Minnesota to Dallas in 1993, Modano, the first pick of the 1989 Entry Draft, immediately became someone who local hockey fans identified as the face of what would be a growing sport in north Texas. It was a role he clearly embraced.

Over the years, he came to be considered a local sports icon, ranking right alongside former Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan, ex-Cowboys quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach and current Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki.

Current Stars center Steve Ott was a teammate of Modano's from 2002-10 and, like he normally does, offered a matter-of-fact assessment of his ex-teammate's career.

"Simply the best Dallas Star to ever put on the jersey," he said. "It's going to be a lot of years before anyone comes around like Mike Modano again. He is the epitome of what it is to be a Dallas Star."

However, the biggest mark of what Modano meant to this franchise could be the immeasurable impact he had on the countless younger players he skated with.

"He definitely made a huge impact on this organization. When you think of the Dallas Stars, you think of his name," Stars center Jamie Benn said. "He was great from Day 1. I was pretty lucky to come in here as a young guy, to play on his line with him and Jere (Lehtinen). It was something pretty special for me. He was always pretty good with helping me out. He was a big help for me in my career."

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Ott concurs, but admits during his first preseason as Modano's teammate, he was a bit star struck.

"I'll never forget my first training camp," he said. "I lined up in the corner as we always do and Mike Modano is in front of me. To see those first strides and to see that jersey flapping, I knew I was in the NHL. From playing my SEGA Genesis with Mike Modano to seeing him on the ice and seeing the magic that he brought, it was pretty to watch."

Two current Dallas defensemen also remember their time sharing the room with the future Hall of Famer.

"He's been a hell of a player his whole career. He set all those records and was the franchise face for this organization for many, many years," Nicklas Grossman said. "It's always sad to see a guy like that quit, but it's his decision. I wish him all the best in his life."

Veteran blueliner Stephane Robidas was a teammate of Modano's for more than six seasons, so he has plenty of fond memories of his time skating alongside the Dallas icon.

"He had a great career. Everything was so natural. He did everything at top speed," Robidas said. "He could do pretty much everything. He was a fun player to watch. I had a chance to watch him growing up and then a chance to play with him. It was a lot of fun."

Modano will make his retirement official at a press conference in Dallas at 2 p.m. ET on Friday. The conference will be streamed live on the Stars' website as well as at NHL.com.

At 6 p.m. ET on Saturday, NHL Network in the U.S. and Canada will premiere "Mike Modano: American Icon," which takes a look at Modano's life and career, starting from his childhood in Livonia, Mich., through his final game with the Stars in 2010. Family, friends and former teammates will pay tribute to Modano for what he did for the game of hockey and how he'll be remembered.

I've been getting frustrated lately, and the only thing keeping me sane was the team winning and other people stepping up and scoring. Then you just kind of let it go and realize you can end the series with one shot, that frustration goes away for a brief moment, and that's what happened.

— Montreal forward Max Pacioretty after scoring the series winner in Game 4 -- his first career playoff goal -- to eliminate the Lightning and send the Canadiens into the second round