Jere Lehtinen had heard the speculation about the Dallas Stars possibly retiring his No. 26 at some point but wasn't sure if it would ever happen. But he was moved when he found out his number would be raised to the rafters at American Airlines Center next season as part of the team's 25th anniversary celebration.
"It's kind of a humbling feeling to get noticed like that," Lehtinen said. "It's one of the biggest things you can get as a player, individually, through hockey. I am proud."
The decision to retire Lehtinen's number became an obvious move as the Stars looked to celebrate their history with the 25th anniversary of the team's arrival in Dallas just around the corner.
"Lehtinen in our vernacular is almost an adjective," said Stars president Jim Lites. "It's a descriptor of what we want our players to be. His attention to detail, how he performed in the playoffs in those long runs we had, what he did for his teammates and the kind of player he was, his dedication to our team."
Lehtinen, a fourth-round pick (88th overall) in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, played his entire 14-year career with the Stars and was one of the game's great two-way forwards, winning the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward three times (1998, 1999, 2003). He registered 514 points (243 goals, 271 assists) in 875 games, topping the 20-goal mark eight times and scoring more than 30 goals twice. He tallied 49 points (27 goals, 22 assists) in 108 playoff games, including ten in 23 games when the Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999.
"I am very excited for him. It's well-deserved," said Mike Modano, whose No. 9 was retired by the Stars in 2014. "Playing with Jere for 14 years was quite a thrill, and the best part was being on the same line with him for ten or eleven years."
Lehtinen wasn't flashy, but he was rock solid and did all the little things right. And he did them night in and night out. He was a relentless model of consistency.
"I think our M.O. as a team was based on Jere's character as a guy and as a player," Modano said. "That's how we gauged our team, off how Jere played, his energy, his consistency. He was a staple. Everyone tried to play a style similar to him because he was effective in all parts of the game."
For Lehtinen, having his number go up into the rafters is special. Having it go up next to Modano's No. 9, is especially sweet.
"Couldn't be better going with Mike, playing with him almost all my years," Lehtinen said. "He showed me how to play top level hockey and get me there, too. Now, everything is closing up together from where we started. Both of us are retired now and Mike having his number retired. Now, this is happening. It's a dream come true feeling."
Lehtinen also takes pride in that his number retirement will come as the Stars celebrate their 25th anniversary in Dallas, relishing that he, Modano and others were part of a group that helped grow hockey in Dallas and Texas.
"I am proud of that looking back, how the whole team helped and when we won the Stanley Cup," he said. "We did a lot of stuff in the community with the StarCenters. It's great to be part of that 25th celebration."
Lehtinen will be the fifth player to have his number retired by the Stars, joining Modano (9), Neal Broten (7), Bill Goldsworthy (8), and Bill Masterton (19).
"What I got from playing in Dallas and the NHL, winning the Stanley Cup and playing with the great players, that was my ultimate dream when I was a kid," Lehtinen said. "That's maybe why I didn't think [the number retirement] was happening. But I am proud of being with one team in my entire NHL career and a great organization, so it feels great."
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.