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Locker room stirs Cup memories for Modano

by Bob Matuszak / Dallas Stars

BUFFALO -- Sitting in the exact same spot he did on that June morning nearly 11 years ago, Mike Modano blankly stared straight ahead while dictating the magical film that was playing inside his eyes. Feature: 1999 Stanley Cup Rewind
Gallery: Game 6 Photos Gallery: Game 6 Post Game Gallery: Game 6 Locker Room
Video Feature: Mike Modano
Highlights: Modano (2008-09)
Tickets: DAL vs LA - 3/12
The calendar may have read March 2010, but for five minutes the face of the Dallas Stars franchise, and the man most responsible for creating the immense growth of hockey in North Texas, whisked himself back to 1999 when he helped the Stars win their first ever Stanley Cup by defeating the Buffalo Sabres at Marine Midland Arena.

Brett Hull's championship winner in triple overtime of Game 6 just 90 minutes into Father's Day was the culmination of Modano and the Stars' quest for magnificence, and on Wednesday the 20-year veteran leaned forward and clasped his hands to reflect on what was certainly the most memorable night of his career.

"Just picturing everybody in here afterwards, and visually knowing where everybody was when we were done and how we were sitting," Modano remembered at his locker stall located along the middle of the back wall of the visitors locker room in what is now HSBC Arena. "You remember all the people that were involved at that time and that were all here in this room at once."

Transfixed, Modano paused for a brief moment, as if he had just entered his own personal time machine that shuttled him back to a place where indeed nothing else mattered.

"As soon as you get here you know that something unique happened," he continued. "I got to see everything because I was right here in the middle. Just sitting here that night when it was all done for the 10 minutes we had by ourselves when it was over, it was really just a self-fulfilling feeling that you had. It was a sense of relief and accomplishment…it's just hard to explain."

Modano's glory in the late spring of '99 came with plenty of guts. He sustained a broken radius bone near his left wrist in Dallas' 2-1 Game 3 win in Buffalo, and needed some extra padding to help protect the injury the rest of the series.

"It was tough," he said. "That morning when I woke up after Game 3 I was really wondering what I was going to do. But I said that I've come too far, and we're two wins away from getting this thing over with. So we did everything we could to get on the ice. Once you get out there and playing, with the adrenaline and everything, it felt better than I thought it would. So that helped."

After the Sabres tied the series at 2 games apiece, the scene shifted back to Dallas for Game 5. That's when coach Ken Hitchcock dialed into his star center by dialing him up. Hitchcock, the master psychologist, called Modano at home the night before the pivotal contest to do a little brain digging and soul searching.

"He just asked how I was feeling and what I wanted to do and accomplish, and what type of player I wanted to be," Modano said. "He reminded me of what type of player I was, and that narrowed our focus.

"He asked those kinds of questions all the time, so it wasn't anything out of the blue. But it was special to get that from him -- calling me at home -- to know at that point for him he was thinking about me and my situation. He had his moments where you knew that he really cared personally and collectively for the group, and just wanted the best out of you."

That group was on a mission that season. After losing to Detroit the year before in the Western Conference Finals, it was go big or go home for the '98-99 edition of the Stars that featured grizzled veterans like Guy Carbonneau, Craig Ludwig, Brian Skrudland and Dave Reid. They wound up doing both, flying the Stanley Cup the approximate 1,200 miles from Buffalo back to Dallas.

"There was total relief," Modano said. "It was over, we had won and we were done. We got our one Cup that we set out to do in training camp, and that was our goal. There was no other way about it that year. We knew we weren't going to have a lot of returnees the following year -- even though we still got to the Finals -- but the bond that was made there, you'll always have it with those guys."

Modano actually came inches away from possibly depositing the Cup winner past sprawled Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek. After Hasek stopped Hull's initial attempt at the doorstep, Modano swiped his stick at the rebound that popped out. But Hull was able to kick it with his left skate onto his own stick to shovel it home.

The goal set off a wild celebration in the right corner, where Modano threw his stick in the air before bear-hugging Hull. To this day, Modano still feels the excitement when he approaches that part of the rink.

"Every time I make a turn in that corner I remember the mob scene that happened there and that particular area of the ice," he said. "The flashbacks come back."

Modano had been back to Buffalo to play the Sabres on four other occasions since hoisting the Cup jubilantly over his head in '99, but this week's trip to western New York could be his last, as his magnificent career that began as the No. 1 overall pick of the Minnesota North Stars in 1988 begins to wind down.

But whether or not he returns again, one thing is for sure -- the city of Buffalo will always have a deep and an everlasting place in the Michigan native's heart.

"I spent a lot of time in Buffalo playing when I was a kid for Little Caesars," he said. "I played in games in (suburbs) like Amherst and Tonawanda. So to come back and win it all here that night, there was no better feeling."

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