TORONTO -- Mike Modano is connected to each of his fellow classmates this weekend at the Hockey Hall of Fame in a unique way.
Modano nearly played for coach Pat Burns before his NHL career ever started. One of his highest highs and one of his lowest lows came against Rob Blake and Dominik Hasek. Some of his greatest playoff series came against Peter Forsberg.
Then there is referee Bill McCreary. When the members of the Hockey Hall of Fame's Class of 2014 gathered Saturday in the Great Hall to tell stories about their careers and answer questions from a room full of eager fans, Modano recalled an important moment early in his career.
"I was a little bit of a whiny, spoiled teenager when I started," Modano said. "Bill came up to me, he pulled me aside and he told me, 'Mike, if you show a little effort to work through some of the clutching and grabbing and not try to show us up as far as embellishing some of the falls out there, we're always going to give you the benefit of the doubt.' I've always remembered that."
Modano was a sought-after amateur player while growing up in Michigan. One fan asked him about his decision to play for a Canadian junior team instead of waiting and playing NCAA hockey, and Modano said he would have chosen Michigan State University or the University of Michigan had he gone that route.
Instead, he wanted to play for a Canadian Hockey League team, and Modano thought he was going to end up playing for Burns and the Hull Olympiques in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
"I told (Burns' wife) Line that Pat was phenomenally respected around the League, one of those coaches that I always heard players say they loved to play for," Modano said. "He was always up front, honest and told you where you stood and what were his goals, and those are usually the best guys to play for."
When asked who the Olympiques selected instead, Modano quickly replied, "Joe Suk." That proved to be an unwise decision. Suk, a forward from Chicago, had a decent four-year career with Hull, including a 35-goal, 89-point season in 1988-89, but he never played at a level above the ECHL as a professional. Modano ended up with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League and became the No. 1 pick in the 1988 NHL Draft.
Modano was part of the United States team that won the 1996 World Cup against Blake's Canadian team in Montreal, but the defenseman exacted some revenge six years later by claiming the gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics on American soil.
He reached the pinnacle of the NHL in 1999, helping the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup in a final series against Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres. That came a year after Hasek and the Czech Republic sent Modano and the Americans home early from the 1998 Nagano Olympics with a disappointing quarterfinal loss.
Though the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings became the biggest rivalry in the NHL in the 1990s, Modano's Stars had a pair of titanic showdowns with Forsberg's Avalanche at the turn of the century. Dallas twice defeated Colorado in seven games in the Western Conference Final, en route to winning the Cup in 1999 and before losing in the Final the following season.
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"I would like to say something bad about him," said Forsberg, after Modano had joked about his Swedish counterpart earlier during the event. "I'm trying to think, but I don't have one bad story. It is only good things. He was an unbelievable player. He could fly."
The forum allowed the Hall of Fame classmates to talk about each other and reminisce about some of the experiences that led to this day. Forsberg recalled getting hit in the head with a vintage Blake slap shot on the first day of practice after the Avalanche acquired the defenseman.
Hasek, Modano and McCreary all playfully reminded everyone about Forsberg's physical play, using words like "nasty" and "dirty," though the Swede half-heartedly disagreed. Line Burns talked about the times when Pat had doubts about his coaching career, but said one of his favorite phrases was "never surrender" and he applied that to his life in hockey.
One of Blake's memories was about Modano's trademark look. Blessed with an ability to skate like few players can, Modano also had elite "hockey hair," a blond mullet that flapped in the wind out of his helmet along with his jersey as he skated. Blake said other players were jealous of how Modano's jersey looked as he moved along the ice.
"He was the only guy in the League that when he would skate and get up to top speed, his jersey would blow in the wind," Blake said. "It would flap, and guys would see and comment on it. All of us would try to use fans to get that same look."
But was it a creation of Modano's world-class speed, or the way he wore the sweater? It turns out it was a little bit of both.
"I didn't like having the sweater tight in the arms, so I did go to the trainer and ask for a size bigger," Modano said.