The Dallas Stars retired Mike Modano’s No. 9 Saturday, honoring the man who helped make hockey popular in Texas and the Southwest and helped bring the Stars franchise a Stanley Cup championship in 1999.
“The moment I got off that plane in 1993, Dallas felt like home,” Modano said in thanking fans. “You allowed me to be a part of your lives, and you to mine. All the things we’ve accomplished as a team, individually and personally couldn’t have been done without you people.”
It was a record sellout crowd at American Airlines Center as 19,109 fans were on hand as the Stars paid tribute to Modano, the franchise’s leader in just about every key statistical category. And there were several of Modano’s former teammates on hand to help him celebrate, including one special group. Early in the ceremony, a circular curtain dropped at center ice to reveal members of that 1999 championship team.
“I am sure everyone will agree in this building that nothing will ever compare to that ’99 Stanley Cup championship,” Modano said. “The collection of guys we had on that team I think are the greatest group of guys, and to have them up here tonight speaks to the depth of our friendship. I can’t thank the guys enough for being here tonight.”
The Stars had been planning Saturday night’s event since last spring and Modano had been heavily involved. Anticipation had been building and it continued to build right up until for Modano right up until the time he took the stage.
“I think the hard part was waiting in the tunnel underneath,” Modano said. “I was warned about the videos and I had to take a little glimpse a couple weeks ago just to kind of prepare myself, so there was some good ones. You know it was tough because we were all waiting under there and it just kind of hit me that those guys were from the Cup team out there. I knew I’d have a hard time getting going and once it got to that point, it felt OK.”
There were plenty of ovations during the ceremony, none louder and longer than when Modano was introduced.
“I knew it was going to be tough when the fans got into it,” said Modano. “I knew I’d have a hard time just because of what they meant, the support and impact they made on me in my career and my life since we got here, so it’s been building. It’s been building for the last couple weeks when it’s been closer and closer to this day, but I knew once I got out there in front of them, it’d be difficult.”
Modano thanked former Stars owner Norm Green, who brought the team to Dallas from Minnesota in 1993. He thanked former owner Tom Hicks for spending the money to help the team win the Cup and he thanked current owner Tom Gaglardi for leading the team into the future.
There were thanks for former coaches Bob Gainey, Ken Hitchcock and Dave Tippett.
“Bob Gainey taught me a lot about the game, to have respect for the game and to work hard,” Modano said. “And then along came Ken Hitchcock. He pushed me to extremes and he made me find out what I was capable of doing as a player and achieving. There were times I wanted to cry, curl up and not show up at the rink the next day. I think I was the one guy he had on speed dial, he called me every night before crucial games, to have me start thinking how I wanted to do the next night, how I wanted to be, what kind of player I was going to be when I showed up at the game. He pushed me hard. When you are going through that you don’t realize why he is being so hard on you, but he saw what we were capable of doing as a team. … He got the most out of our team.”
One of Modano’s most emotional moments came when he talked about former assistant coach Rick Wilson, now an assistant with the Minnesota Wild. Wilson recruited Modano to play junior hockey in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and they’ve been connected ever since.
“Our friendship has been going on for 30-plus years,” Modano said. “I wouldn’t be here without him.”
As Modano walked from the stage onto the ice to have his No. 9 raised to the rafters there were some other local sports icons to greet him. The group included former Dallas Cowboys Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, Dallas Maverick Dirk Nowitzki and former Mav Rolando Blackman and former Texas Ranger Michael Young.
Then, Modano’s number went up to the rafters.
“The fans and having those guys there and Troy and Roger and Dirk and those guys, it certainly put a great touch to it,” Modano said. “The team and Tom (Gaglardi] just went total first class on this whole thing all weekend. It’s been a lot of fun, seeing a lot of those guys and reminiscing.”
The festivities started with several of the special guests arriving at American Airlines Center via a Green Carpet walk. Many were from that 1999 team.
“World-class skill at world-class speed. World-class guy,” said Brett Hull. “That’s what Mike Modano is.”
“I looked up the definition the other day and wrote it down...The word is `Panache',” Craig Ludwig said. “Do you know what the definition is? Distinctive and stylish elegance...on the ice and off. Does he not have stylish elegance on the ice when he plays the game? And is he distinctive. Mo is panache.”
“As a player, I always say it is his jersey flying. I still have people asking me about that,” said Derian Hatcher.
Hatcher, who came to Dallas from Minnesota with Modano in 1993, was impressed with the number of fans at the green carpet event.
“It’s nuts, look at this,” Hatcher said as he looked around as the crowd. “When Mike and I came down here from Minnesota, and to see this now it is unbelievable. It is definitely well deserved for Mike. There’s not a whole lot more to say, just look around.”
And now you can look up to the rafters and see his No. 9. That says it all.
This story was not subject to the 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.