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Zubov didn't seek recognition during Hall of Fame career, Modano says

Former Stars center remembers defense great flew under radar, made impact on ice

by Mike Modano / Special to

Mike Modano was a teammate of defenseman Sergei Zubov on the Dallas Stars from 1996-97 to 2008-09. They won the Stanley Cup together with Dallas in 1999 and reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2000. Here Modano, a center who was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014, shares his thoughts on Zubov, who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, in a special testimonial for

When I heard Sergei Zubov was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this year, I was happy for him to finally receive the recognition he deserves. 

Sergei isn't one to sell himself to anybody. He didn't like the attention. He just liked to fly under the radar and do his job and have some fun. 

Although Sergei wasn't looking for those extra accolades that come with how well he played, I always thought if he played his whole career for the New York Rangers he probably would've been voted the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL five or six times.

I remember playing against him when he helped the Soviet Union win the gold medal at the 1989 IIHF World Junior Championship in Anchorage, Alaska. He was sending Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Mogilny in on breakaways one after another. 

Then, I didn't hear much about him until he got to New York in 1992-93 and it was like, "Oh man. He's back." 

He led the Rangers with 89 points (12 goals, 77 assists) when they won the Stanley Cup in 1994. I know he loved New York and then was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1995. 

I'm not sure what happened in Pittsburgh, but things seemed to not click there. When the Stars traded Kevin Hatcher to Pittsburgh for Sergei in 1996, I was like "Wow, how did (Stars) general manager Bob Gainey pull that one off?" 

It probably goes down as the best trade the Stars ever made.

Sergei's impact was instant. He came in and was relaxed. He played with poise. He ran the power play, grabbed a ton of minutes at even strength and even his defensive play without the puck and his positioning was really underrated. 

He did a lot of things well and once we got those puck-moving defensemen back there, led by him, then our whole team seemed to change to a more transitional team, defense to offense, and everything seemed to take off from there.

He could wait you out and give you a little bit more space, as far as a forward trying to find that seam or that opening, and he could wait and delay it a little bit more until he saw that perfect little seam and he could thread it in there. And the pass was good. It was flat. It was there. It wasn't off the glass and off the chest and you had to catch it. 

Most defensemen these days hit it off the glass and are safe. He hated that play and it drove him crazy, so I was thankful he didn't want to do that all the time.

I loved playing with Sergei. We kind of thought the game at the same level and our creativity was a little bit of the same. We saw the same plays. The language of hockey was really easy between the two of us.

Off the ice, we spent a lot of time together. He spent a lot of time with his family at home, but on the road, we had dinner together quite often. We sat together on the plane a lot. He was a great guy. I enjoyed him.

I thought he was a freak of nature. Watching him in the gym, he didn't really do much. He might ride the bike for a little bit. He wasn't a big in-season workout guy like a lot of guys were. He grinded out his game on the ice. 

Sergei was a big part of the Stars winning the Stanley Cup in 1999. We had a lot of guys coming in as we were putting the pieces together who had won the Cup before such as Mike Keane, Brian Skrudland, Guy Carbonneau and Sergei.

You could tell how they approached the game day in and day out, how professional they were, how committed to what it takes to win. We were all young at the time and we really didn't know what it took to get to that level until we saw these guys on a dad-to-day basis. Then, it was like, "Wow, that's really what it's all about." That's what it took to win. 

Sergei was one of those guys, for sure. He was backbone of the defensive corps. I think his play kind of filtered throughout the whole defensive corps, his ability to be patient and be in the right position, not panic, make the right play. 

It never seemed to bother Sergei that he didn't receive the individual awards. In general, I think we all have a little burning desire deep down to get a little bit of recognition. As well as he played and as consistent as he was, there probably was a little part of him that thought, "I'm not going to make a fuss about it", but there was a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, I think, for not getting at least a couple Norris Trophies. 

I thought Sergei should have been the hands-down winner for some of those years. But he was always real modest and real humble. He hated talking about himself. 

He just let the hockey do the talking when he was on the ice and that was it.

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