Plenty has been said about Mike Modano, his spectacular hockey career and what he has meant to hockey in the United States, both on and off the ice. But it never seems to be enough, and Monday night provided the perfect opportunity to say more as Modano was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame at the Plaza of the Americas in downtown Dallas.
“There is no greater ambassador or individual for this game,” New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said to Modano in his speech. “Your performance on the ice was second to none. “
Hockey dignitaries and fans were on hand to celebrate the induction of the Class of 2012, which also included Lamoriello, the greatest American general manager, and Ed Olczyk, who distinguished himself during a 16-year NHL career and is now one of the top broadcasters in the game. And it was also a night to celebrate the career of Modano. It was a career that can be traced back to when he was seven-years-old and had its roots in some friendly advice.
“This hockey thing was kind of an accident for me. I wasn’t a fan of it. I was really into baseball and loved that sport,” Modano said. “I had some issues as a kid and was trying to find a way to get some energy and frustrations out. A friend of our family suggested I play hockey. I went and skated one day, my whole demeanor changed, my attitude changed and I wanted to play. To this day, we’ve thanked our friend, who suggested that we get involved in hockey.”
And that involvement took him from playing the game in Livonia, Michigan to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, where he played junior hockey and then landed him in Minnesota after the North Stars took him first overall in the first round of the 1988 NHL Draft.
“We were looking for someone to bring people into the arena and get them out of their seats. We were hoping that player would be the face of our franchise and bring us a Stanley Cup,” said Lou Nanne, the Minnesota GM made Modano the number one pick. “Fortunately for us and then for Dallas, Mike Modano turned out to be that player.”
There were the Dallas years, where Modano spent most of his NHL career, helping lead the Stars to a Stanley Cup in 1999 and turning a Sunbelt city into a hockey city.
"What I'm most proud of is being part of a group that brought hockey to Texas,” said Modano. “In 1993, there were maybe 50 kids registered to play hockey, now there are over 10,000. There are dozens of rinks and Texas is home to the most professional hockey teams (of any state) in the country.”
There were stellar moments on the international stage, where he was part of a Team USA squad that won gold at the World Cup of Hockey in 1996 and took a silver medal at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. The passion for wearing the red, white and blue inspired by the USA’s win over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid.
“We all know that 1980 was a monumental task that those guys went through. I argue that 1996 was one of the best championship teams that we ever had. It was one of the most talented teams that I’ve ever been a part of, best guys and best team,” Modano said. “Salt Lake, we all felt, was the highlight of our career. We were playing at home in front of our fans and having the great Herb Brooks on the bench. … That gold medal game is an experience that I will never forget.”
WATCH Mike Modano's full induction ceremony speech
Then there are the numbers. Modano played 21 seasons in the NHL and is the Stars’ franchise leader in games played (1,459), goals (557), assists (802) and points (1,359). He is the all-time leader among U.S.-born players in goals (561) and points (1,374).
“I was fortunate to play so many years, have so many great teammates and so many great coaches,” said Modano, who got emotional during his induction speech as he talked about some of his record-setting moments. “There were goals and milestones that I thought never possible to reach. One was passing Neal Broten (Stars scoring records), I was very lucky to have him as a teammate and a role model. The other two were passing Joey Mullen (U.S. goal scoring record) and Phil Housley (U.S. points record).”
Monday was a chance for USA Hockey to recognize Modano for those accomplishments and for Modano to reflect on them and to remember how much a family friend’s suggestion when he was just seven-years-old had such a big impact on his life and a sport.
“Only in America can you get a difficult kid from Detroit to fulfill unimagined dreams,” Modano said. “My dad got me a pair of skates, I watched the Miracle on Ice with my teammates. I played with some of the greatest players in the game and for my country. Today, I am getting another unanticipated honor to be inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame. My parents were looking to find me an outlet, and I think we found a lot more than that.”