Wings, Little Caesars honor Modano for accomplishment
/ Detroit Red Wings
The Wings honored Stars center Mike Modano, who had many battles during his career with the Red Wings and Steve Yzerman.
DETROIT – Before Livonia-native Mike Modano ever starred in the NHL or on the international stage, he was a prolific young scorer in the Little Caesars hockey program.
“The very first game I had him, an exhibition game, I knew he was gonna be a pro,” said former Little Caesars coach Chris Coury. “All I had to say was ‘Listen Mike, this is what I want you do to in our end and I want you to play defensively in our end. The rest of the rink is yours.’ Because there wasn’t much I could teach him. I let him figure it out himself – he was too talented.”
Since his Little Caesars days, Modano has represented his country in three Olympics and one World Cup, and in November he became the highest scoring American-born player in National League Hockey history.
In an on-ice ceremony prior to Wednesday’s game, the Red Wings and Little Caesars honored the Stars’ star center by presenting him with a framed replica Little Caesars jersey.
“I was pretty surprised and honored at the same time,” said Modano, 37. “They’ve always been a real class organization and Little Caesars has always been good to me throughout my career and my life. But being from Detroit, it was quite a thrill to have them going out of their way like that.”
Modano, who has spent his entire 18-season NHL career with the Stars entered Wednesday’s game with 1,251 points (519 goals, 732 assists) in 1,278 games.
When Modano was 15-years-old he earned a spot on the Little Caesars Midget-Major AAA team that was comprised mainly of 16 and 17-year-olds. He finished the 1984-85 season with 50 goals and 50 assists while helping lead the team to the Michigan State Championship.
“We started at an early age, probably nine or 10 (years-old) when I got into the Caesars organization,” Modano said after the Stars’ morning skate on Wednesday. “There were some memorable years where you were developing and I still do a lot of the things or use a lot of the skills that they taught at that age.”
The Little Caesars AAA team is one of the most recognized and respected organizations in amateur travel hockey. A cornerstone of the Midwest Elite Hockey League since 1968, the program has captured numerous state championships and tournament titles over its 30-plus year history.
The one Red Wings’ player who likely knows Modano best is defenseman Chris Chelios, who have been teammates on numerous U.S. teams.
“Mike’s just a great kid all around,” Chelios said. “Obviously, he still loves the game. He’s playing at a high level, as high as he ever has. I think the difference in the rules and the way the game is played it’s a lot more defense-orientated not as wide open. But he’s made the adjustment and still remains one of the elite players in the league. He makes his team a better team. He’s a great team guy. I’ve played with him on Team USA in international hockey and there’s no better ambassador to the game than Mike Modano for US players.”
And Chelios foresees Modano’s continued leadership into the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
“You’re going to have that mix of veteran players and youth,” Chelios said. “He hasn’t lost a step as far as I’m concerned. I would think that he would be excited especially since it’s in North America, which will be a great opportunity for the US team to shine and expose hockey in the United States.”
Asked what his favorite memories of playing for Little Caesars, Modano said. “Probably the weekend games when we had to come down at Joe Louis and play. Those were the funniest games. You got to come down here and you actually ran into a lot of the guys when they were done practicing. You got to meet a lot of the guys with the Red Wings, and having that close of a relationship with Ilitch and that family was really nice.”