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Centennial Portraits

Mike Modano, Syl Apps portraits unveiled

Color paintings of 100 Greatest NHL Players will be revealed on NHL.com every Monday in 2017

NHL.com @NHL

As part of the NHL Centennial Celebration, renowned Canadian artist Tony Harris will paint original portraits of each of the 100 Greatest NHL Players presented by Molson Canadian as chosen by a Blue Ribbon panel. NHL.com will reveal two portraits each Monday in 2017.

This week, the portraits of centers Syl Apps and Mike Modano are unveiled in the 22nd installment. 

Apps excelled in numerous sports and played hockey and football at McMaster University. Toronto Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe saw him play football in 1934 and immediately contacted the NHL to place Apps on their negotiation list. Two years later, Apps led the NHL with 29 assists and won the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie.

Apps was the face of the Maple Leafs for 10 seasons, with two lost to World War II. He was a point-a-game player (432 points in 423 regular-season games), a two-time First-Team All-Star and a three-time Stanley Cup winner.

But as author Stu Hackel writes in his NHL100 profile of Apps, the Toronto star was much more than his statistics and accomplishments would suggest. 

"Apart from his unusual name, Charles Joseph Sylvanus Apps seemed made to order, a virtuous and handsome real-life Canadian version of the fictional Frank Merriwell, the pulp magazine and American radio serial hero, a dreamed-up multi-sport collegiate athlete who lived an upright life and, in his spare time, solved mysteries and righted wrongs. Apps was no part-time sleuth, but his decades of public service, combined with his on-ice and off-ice behavior, made him a paragon of sportsmanship and citizenship. Smythe would, in fact, introduce him at gatherings as 'Syl Apps, our captain, who does not smoke or drink.'"

Smythe also called Apps "the greatest player ever to wear a Leafs uniform." 

"Syl Apps is another Toronto player that my father loved to talk about," Harris said, "so even though I never saw him play, I have an understanding of how good he was."

Video: Syl Apps won Stanley Cup three times with Maple Leafs

Modano was one of the great skaters in NHL history. At 6-foot-3, he could race past opponents like they were standing still and make life miserable for goaltenders with his tremendous shot. 

Longtime NHL rival Jeremy Roenick said Modano was "like an eagle. He could just fly across the ice." 

But Modano had style and substance during a 21-season NHL career that included 561 goals and a Stanley Cup championship with the Dallas Stars in 1999. Modano holds the NHL records for goals (561) and points (1,374) by a U.S.-born player.

In his NHL100 profile of Modano, author Kevin Allen writes about his life-changing decision to leave his home near Detroit and play in the Western Hockey League.

"It was Rick Wilson, now a St. Louis Blues assistant coach, who recruited Modano to leave his suburban Detroit existence in Westland, Michigan, at age 16 and prove himself in the Western Hockey League. 

"Modano said that decision, and Wilson's guidance, changed his life. 

'When I got there, I felt like I had something to prove,' Modano said. 'That was the motivation to do well. I was in Canada, where people love their sport. They expect nothing less than your best.'

"It created a stir when Modano agreed to play in the rough-and-tumble WHL because it was presumed that if the offensively gifted center wanted to play Canadian junior hockey he would go to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. That's where Michigan native Pat LaFontaine had gone several years before. 

"'It's freezing cold in Prince Albert,'" Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "When you go there, you are going to play hockey. He was going to a small town in Saskatchewan and a league known for long bus rides and physical play. That's the commitment he had to play hockey.'
 
"When Modano arrived in the WHL with braces and boyish good looks, he didn't fit the League's image. He was tested physically and mentally. 

"'He was like the anti-Western Canada kid,'" former Calgary Flames general manager Craig Button said. "It didn't matter how talented he was, people just thought he didn't have the DNA of a good, hard Western Canadian."

Modano handled whatever the WHL threw at him. At 16 he scored 32 goals. At 17, he had 47 goals and 80 assists for 127 points in 65 games. The Minnesota North Stars made Modano the No. 1 pick in the 1988 NHL Draft. 

Harris said the chance to portray Modano in his North Stars jersey was a thrill. 

"When I was tasked to paint Mike Modano in his Minnesota North Stars uniform it made me smile," Harris said. "Looking back at the early days of his career and try to capture that epic flow was pure painting joy."

Video: Mike Modano highest-scoring American of all time

 

Syl Apps

 

Mike Modano

 

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