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Modano, U.S. icon, hangs up his skates as a Star

by Steve Hunt
DALLAS -- After 21 seasons in the NHL, Mike Modano made it official Friday, announcing his retirement as a player. It was fitting that his farewell press conference was in Dallas -- since that's where he spent the bulk of his playing career.

During his more than two decades as a player, he was an eight-time NHL All-Star who finished as the career leader among American-born with 561 goals and 1,374 points. He was a major contributor to the Stars' 1999 Stanley Cup championship, and he served as Dallas' captain from 2003-06.

Modano, the first pick of the 1988 Entry Draft, thanked many during his almost 30-minute address to a crowded room here at the Ritz Carlton. One of the first to be thanked was former Minnesota North Stars General Manager Lou Nanne, the man who drafted Modano.

"As a kid at 18 just being believed in and drafted as an 18-year-old American was certainly beyond my dreams, being the second American ever taken first overall in a draft with a very stylish mullet," he said, poking fun at his teenaged hairdo.

He spent his first four seasons with the North Stars and singled out several teammates for their notable impact on his early days in the NHL.

"(I want to thank) my teammates in Minnesota -- Neal Broten, Larry Murphy, Mike Gartner, Brian Bellows, Dennis Maruk. First year there, he (Maruk) gave me his No. 9 jersey," Modano said. "Stew Gavin, my first roommate, he taught me a lot about what it took to be a pro and act like one."

In 1993, he and his teammates learned the club would be relocating to Dallas. He remembers his initial reaction to the news.

"We heard that in Minnesota and we kind of cringed," Modano said. "We didn't know what to expect in Texas. Certainly, we didn't want to move from Minnesota, where we thought hockey was and is the heartbeat of American hockey. But it was gutsy. We knew people in Dallas didn't know much about hockey."

All Modano and his fellow North Stars knew about Dallas was that it was home to the NFL's Cowboys, who had just won their second straight Super Bowl in 1993 and that the city was, first and foremost, a Cowboys town.

"We knew that going in that it was going to be a tough sell to entice people to come and watch the game, but we always thought that if we got them to Reunion (Arena, the Stars' former home) or the (American Airlines Center, their current home), they'd fall in love with the game, the speed and finesse of the game," Modano said. "I think we did a good job of being able to ride the coattails of the Cowboys."

Once the game arrived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Modano was the one who was tasked with the immense responsibility of helping to grow the sport -- not just in the Metroplex, but throughout the state.

Modano not only embraced being the new face of the franchise, but local fans quickly embraced him, and the Stars became a fan favorite in their new home. He also helped fuel a growth in the game on a grass-roots level as Dallas opened a number of Star Centers to cater to the growing population of players fueled by the presence of the Stars.

Modano takes great pride in seeing how far the game has come in the area and also in knowing that he played a huge part in that whole process.

"To be one of those original Dallas Stars and watch hockey grow in the state of Texas beyond belief, when we first came down here, we never thought it would grow into something like this. It simply is great to see," Modano said.

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