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Modano excited to return to where it all started

by Dan Rosen
If it weren't for that darned guy who wore No. 99 on his back, Dallas Stars forward Mike Modano knows he would have been the MVP of the 1999 NHL All-Star Game in Tampa, Fla.

Modano had a goal and three assists to guide North America to an 8-6 win against the World, but Wayne Gretzky, playing in what would be his final All-Star Game, had three points and was the sentimental MVP choice by the attending media.
"(Ray) Bourque came up to me and said, 'Get one more point, and I think you've got the MVP wrapped up,' " Modano recalled."We didn't get any more, and they gave it to Gretzky. Maybe they'll have that response to me if I only get a couple of points."

It's certainly possible because there is a very real chance that next Sunday's NHL All-Star Game at the Bell Centre in Montreal (6 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio) will be the last in Modano's legendary career. He's played in six All-Star Games already -- starting in 1993 at the Montreal Forum -- and has piled up 10 points in those games.

As special as each of those appearances were, Modano appears to be cherishing this one just a little bit more. For the first time in his career, he's the deserving underdog All-Star, a 38-year-old veteran of 19 seasons who nobody expected to become an All-Star again.

"It's a great honor for him," Dallas coach Dave Tippett told the Dallas Morning News. "He looks like he's having fun out there. He realizes he's not a young guy anymore and he's just enjoying the game."

When Modano looks back, he vividly remembers three specific All-Star Games, even if he only played in two of the three.

His first one, the '93 game in Montreal, is special because, well, it was his first one and it was in Montreal. Modano believes there is nothing more special than an All-Star Game in Canada. He had an assist, but the Campbell Conference got thumped, 16-6.

"Just being in the Forum, and having all of the tradition of hockey and all of the ex-players around and former Canadiens and some of the former NHL players for that fact (is why it's special)," Modano said. "But generally, being in Montreal for that type of celebration…you knew they would put on a great show."

Not that he necessarily needed a confidence boost -- Modano had 216 points in his first three seasons and was on his way to a career-high 93-point season by the time the '93 game rolled around -- but he got one from playing in his first All-Star Game.

Eight future Hall of Famers played that night, as well as at least six others who are locks for induction in the coming years.

"It does a lot to you," he said. "You have the practice. You have the game. And playing with such high-level players, it kind of rubs off on you. You come home and your confidence level is fairly high. It does have a positive impact on you."

Modano returned to the All-Star Game in 1998 in Vancouver after sitting out the '94 and '97 games with injuries. He had two assists and North America won, 8-7, but his best performance, and most memorable time, came in Tampa the following year.

"The Tampa game was a lot of fun with me being so close (to MVP) and having the type of production we had that night," Modano said. "Playing with (Paul) Kariya and (Tony) Amonte, and certainly some other guys, we just had a lot of fun that night."

He has since played in three more All-Star Games, including in 2003 when he served as the West's captain in a 6-5 win at Florida. The 2004 game in Minnesota was special because Modano returned to the place where he started his NHL career.

However, the 2007 game in Dallas is the third All-Star Game that stands out as special for Modano.

Modano was unable to play due to lingering hip and groin injuries that had kept him out since early December, but he was part of the festivities. He served as a Special Ambassador to the 2007 NHL All-Star Celebration as a result of his incredible contributions to help bring the game to Dallas.

Modano, who appeared at various events and also dropped the ceremonial first puck before the game, has been the face of both the Stars and hockey in Texas since the franchise moved south from Minnesota after the 1992-93 season.

"Just being in the Forum, and having all of the tradition of hockey and all of the ex-players around and former Canadiens and some of the former NHL players for that fact (is why it's special). But generally being in Montreal for that type of celebration…you knew they would put on a great show."
-- Mike Modano, on playing in an All-Star Game in Montreal

"Being at home, I was really looking forward to being a part of it," Modano said. "It's probably going to be a long time down the road before it comes back (to Dallas), so yeah, it would have been fun. I was bummed I missed it, but they put on a good show here in Dallas. They did it up fairly well."

It was at that time when critics started to question Modano. He went on to break Phil Housley's record for points by an American early last season, but talk of retirement started to swirl around the Michigan native. He even admitted briefly thinking about it.

Modano decided he still had more in him, more to give, and now he's an All-Star again. He won't let this moment pass without reflection.

Modano was the No. 1 pick of the 1988 Entry Draft held in Montreal. He played his first All-Star Game there, and could be embarking on his last great NHL moment in the Francophone city that has obviously been quite kind to him.

"It's gone full circle," Modano said. "Certainly if this is my last one, I'll definitely go out on a high being part of the whole celebration."
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