“You often think about that,” Modano said. “You go into arenas and you remember guys you watched growing up and see their numbers retired, and you think that it would be really cool to have your number up there in the rafters for ever and ever. It would never be taken down and no one would ever wear that number.”
The dream becomes a reality for Modano Saturday, when the Stars will retire his No.9 at a ceremony at the American Airlines Center. And the Stars are making sure the event is worthy of the greatest player in franchise history. Stars president Jim Lites called on VP of Business Development Dan Stuchal to help plan the event.
“Jimmy Lites put his arm on my shoulder and said, ‘This Mike Modano event that is coming up on March 8 is going to be the biggest night for this franchise since we won the Stanley Cup in 1999,’” said Stuchal. “He said, ‘We can’t screw this one up. This needs to be an event people will never forget.’”
Modano, who has played a key role in planning Saturday’s event, will be the fourth player to have his jersey retired by the Stars franchise. Bill Masterton (No. 19), Bill Goldsworthy (No. 8) and Neal Broten (No. 7) are the others. Broten will be on hand Saturday as well as family members of both Masterton and Goldsworthy.
There will be other guests, some the Stars haven’t made public. Among those known to be attending include several members of the 1999 Stanley Cup championship team who will be prominent in the Green Carpet event at the AT&T Plaza that will kick off the festivities at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. The number retirement ceremony will start right at 6 p.m. featuring Modano, guests and video presentations.
The Stars are encouraging fans to get to American Airlines Center early. Parking lots open at 4:00 p.m., and the Stars say people should be in their seats by 5:45 for the 6 p.m. ceremony.
“We have to start right at 6 p.m., we can’t wait. If you’re late you are going to miss it, and that’s a real shame because it is going to be special,” said Lites. “The fans and Mike, certainly, are going to find the clips and the production really compelling. It really tells a great story. The people are going to be blown away by the people in attendance and part of the process with Mike. It’s special and unique.”
Of course, Modano will be center stage. It’s his night, and it’s sure to be an emotional one for Modano, a guy who was emotional when he played his last game in Dallas and got emotional when announcing his retirement from hockey. Chances are he will get emotional Saturday night.
“This will be pretty climactic, a night that finalizes your impact on the game of hockey here in Dallas and on the organization,” Modano said. “It’s been a whirlwind career. I’ve been lucky to spend so many years in one organization, and making an impact on the game of hockey here in Dallas and in Texas. It’s going to be tough to get that speech out for sure.”
It will be a night to celebrate Modano’s career, and his impact on hockey in Dallas. Modano’s numbers are well documented, and speak for themselves. He’s the Stars franchise leader in just about every offensive category, both regular season and playoffs. He’s the all-time leader among U.S-born players in goals and points.
But Modano was more than numbers. He became a superb all-around player and that was key in the Stars becoming one of the league’s top teams in the late 1990’s. Jere Lehtinen, Modano’s longtime linemate, was right there by his side.
“Over the years we started to win more games and we started to play against top lines, so you had to play overall game and shut down the other team’s top line and score,” said Lehtinen. “I think that is where he took his game to the next level.”
And Modano helped take the Stars to the highest level, winning the Stanley Cup in 1999. That run to the Stanley Cup provided Lehtinen’s most memorable Modano moment. It was Modano playing through a broken wrist as the Stars defeated Buffalo in six games in the Stanley Cup Final, and then the raw emotion Modano showed when he hoisted the Cup.
“Winning the Stanley Cup, that last game and seeing how tough he was and then seeing after we won how much it meant to him,” said Lehtinen. “It was an eye-opener for me to see his reaction, he had been in the league a long time, how much he wanted it and how much it meant to him.”
Modano’s skill, numbers and his commitment to winning are some of the reasons his No. 9 is going up to the rafters. A number he picked as a kid and one that stuck throughout his career.
“My dad was a big Boston fan and he grew up watching Ted Williams, and he was 9,” Modano said. “Of course, growing up in Detroit Gordie Howe was the king, and he had No. 9. Between Ted and Gordie, we stuck with No. 9 and there was a lot of luck when I moved up ages and different levels of hockey that the number became available, so I became pretty lucky there.”
Other players have chosen No. 9 because of Modano. Among them was Bobby Ryan, who wore that number in Anaheim and said he picked it because of Modano.
“It’s kind of neat that a younger group of guys did that because of me,” Modano said.
There have been a lot of people wearing No. 9 on hockey jerseys around Dallas over the years. There still are. That’s because Modano helped sell hockey in Dallas and in the Southwest when the franchise moved to Texas from Minnesota in 1993.
“It’s incredible the way the game has increased here,” Modano said. “I’m proud to be a part of that, being on the ground floor and watching it grow. It was great to be part of that.”
And Modano enthusiastically did what he could to promote the Stars and the game of hockey in Dallas.
“Jeff Cogen (former VP of Marketing and Promotion) and I rode him like a rented mule. Mo! Mo! Mo! We need you! We need you!” said Lites. “The face of the franchise. I remember (Dallas Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones saying to me two years into our stint here, ‘I can’t believe how popular that Mike Modano is. He’s as popular as (Troy) Aikman.’ It’s true. He made us real because he had the capability, the personality, the looks and the approach of a superstar, and he always carried himself that way.”
And Saturday night the Stars will honor Modano, raise his No. 9 to the rafters, as a tribute to what he accomplished on the ice and off it for the franchise.
“He deserves this,” Stuchal said. “You look at the success of this sport, not just in this market but the Southwest, I don’t want to say just Texas, but the Southwest, is due in a large part to Mike Modano. What Wayne Gretzky did for hockey in the U.S. and in California, Mike Modano has done in the Southwest. He’s just been a model person first of all. He’s the face of USA Hockey. He deserves a night like this.”
And Modano can’t wait.
“There’s been a constant build up to it,” he said. “I’m sure it is going to be great,”
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.