DALLAS - Mike Modano walked away from the NHL on Friday with tears, signing an honorary one-day contract so he could retire after 21 seasons as a member of the Dallas Stars.
The 41-year-old native of Livonia, Mich., broke down in tears several times during his final news conference in Dallas. He retires as the NHL's all-time leading scorer among American-born players in goals (561) and points (1,374).
"You wonder what this day would be like," Modano told a crowd of about 200 family, friends, former teammates and members of the Stars front office. "It's pretty overwhelming."
Modano was the first overall pick of the 1988 draft by the Minnesota North Stars, and the speedy, flashy centre was the face of the franchise when the team moved to Dallas in 1993. Modano helped the team win its only Stanley Cup in 1999.
He played what turned out to be his final season with the Detroit Red Wings, the team he rooted for as a kid. Modano appeared in only 40 games for Detroit due to injuries, but he wanted to retire as a Star in his adopted hometown.
High on his list of accomplishments was playing primarily for the same team.
"I look back at 21 years with one franchise, it made me the most proud of anything...it's phenomenal," he said.
Toward the end of a session that lasted almost an hour and included taped highlights of his career, his parents came to the podium and hugged him, causing Modano to shed a few more tears.
Modano holds many of the Stars franchise records, including games played (1,459), goals (557), assists (802), playoff games (174) and playoff points (145). Modano said his body couldn't withstand another year of hockey's wear and tear.
"You think you can play forever...it's obvious, physically things don't match up anymore," Modano said.
Modano's presence helped sell hockey in Texas, and in the Sun Belt. When the Stars arrived, there were only a couple of rinks in North Texas shopping malls. Now, there rinks all over the area, producing players who've gone on to star in college and get drafted by NHL teams.
"We always thought that if you got (fans) into the arena, they'd fall in love with the game," Modano said. "When we came here, nobody knew that it would turn out to be something like this."
Modano left his mark on former teammates.
"What a treat to be able to play with the best ever American-born player," Dallas winger Steve Ott said. "He's simply the best Dallas Star to wear the jersey. He's an instant Hall of Famer. He's Mr. Dallas Star."
Modano was vague about his plans. He said he will do some colour work on Stars local telecasts, and there has been speculation that he could get a front-office position with the team once ownership has finally been resolved.
"It's hard to say what's next," Modano said. "It's going to take time. Maybe some broadcasting ... nothing written in stone yet."