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Red Wings sign Modano to one-year deal

by Dan Rosen
Mike Modano would have retired had the Detroit Red Wings not called.

"It didn't make sense going anywhere else just to play," Modano said Friday at his introductory press conference inside the Olympia Club at Joe Louis Arena.

Here was an opportunity to not only play for a Stanley Cup-contender, but one that is an Original Six team that plays in an arena located minutes from his hometown -- the same arena that he used to call home as an amateur player.

Modano, who grew up in Westland, Mich., spent his formative years playing the odd game or practice Joe Louis Arena with the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey Association, established by Red Wings' owners Mike and Marian Ilitch in 1968.

He wore a Red Wings sweater when he was 9-years-old and "thought it was the greatest thing." He pulled it on again Friday, this time as a 40-year-old with the No. 90 on the back (No. 9 belongs to Gordie Howe and is retired).

Modano "needed something to jar me and get me excited about" playing a 21st season in the NHL. The Wings gave it to him by showering him with interest.

It started July 1 when Detroit GM Ken Holland phoned Modano's agent, Mike Liut. It escalated a week later when Modano visited with Holland, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and the Ilitch family in Detroit.

Modano was intrigued enough to get in touch with Holland roughly a week later, but he still had to spend time thinking about whether he wanted to play again and for a new team for the first time in 21 years.

Remember, Modano had been with the Stars dating back to 1988, when the then-Minnesota North Stars made him the No. 1 pick in the draft out of Prince Albert of the WHL. Holland remembers seeing Modano play as a 16-year-old when he the Wings' western scout.

Modano had to discuss moving back to Michigan with his wife, actress Willa Ford. That was quick as he said she told him to go for it, "to prove a lot of people wrong, to show people you can still play."

In addition, Modano spoke at length to close friends Brett Hull, Chris Chelios and Todd Bertuzzi about their experiences in Detroit. Hull and Chelios were part of Detroit's legendary Cup-winning team in 2002, and Bertuzzi is entering his second year with the organization.

"Those three guys had a big impact," Modano said. "There wasn't one guy I talked to that had a bad word to say about anything here. After that it was just a matter of me getting up the excitement to do it one more time."

Modano is motivated to win, to have a similar Detroit experience as Hull, who came to the Wings in 2001 as a 37-year-old to win a Stanley Cup. He did that very season.

"The opportunity to win is something you're always chasing after when you get older. Quite frankly if they didn't have a chance to win I wouldn't have come," Modano said. "At this age you want to win and you want to have fun. For me, there isn't anything else to obtain but winning and having fun. The last few years were draining and I figured I was done, but to have the opportunity to play with some world-class players certainly changed that."

He's talking, of course, about stars such as fellow 40-year-old Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen. Modano has only played against them in the NHL, and it's never been easy.

"You can't go wrong with any of the guys on this team, and the way they skate and move the puck it makes the game easier," Modano said. "The last little while (in Dallas) it felt like it's been a lot of work and we really haven't gotten a lot accomplished. The game looks simple when you watch these guys and you don't waste a lot of energy. At 40, I don't want to waste a lot of energy."

Mike Ilitch, who was sitting at the dais with Modano and Holland, likes the comparisons between Modano and the players like Hull as well as Luc Robitaille and Igor Larionov. All three won Stanley Cups with the Red Wings as support players at the end of their careers.

"That's a good omen," Ilitch said. "I don't want to talk too much, but…I do feel it."

Modano wouldn't be in Detroit this weekend looking at homes if he didn't, too.

"Everybody in the League has been chasing the Detroit Red Wings for years but no one has come close," Modano said. "I'm just elated. It's exciting to come home."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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