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Modry an underrated but important addition to Stars

by Staff Writer / Dallas Stars

August 2, 2006

By John Tranchina

With the new NHL's emphasis on speed and skill, having a mobile defense that can move the puck out of their zone quickly and accurately is crucial to a team's success. New Dallas Stars defenseman Jaroslav Modry fits that model perfectly.

A solid defender with exceptional offensive skills, Modry also plays the point extremely well on the power play. The Stars could use an upgrade in that area, after finishing tied for 19th in the NHL last season with a 17.7 percent power play efficiency. Modry's Atlanta Thrashers, meanwhile, tied for 7th with an 18.9 percent success rate.

"Jaroslav is a very good puck-moving defenseman," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "He will be an efficient power play man for us and is a solid all-around defenseman."

Modry was acquired from Atlanta on draft day, June 24, along with forward Patrik Stefan, in exchange for center Niko Kapanen and a seventh-round draft choice. Modry, along with the returning Darryl Sydor, helps bolster the Stars' defense corps, which now displays impressive depth and versatility.

Modry will wear his familiar number 44 jersey, which might be an adjustment for Stars fans who have been used to seeing the recently-departed Jason Arnott in it. But the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Modry, who describes himself as somewhat of an offensive catalyst, will undoubtedly win over any doubters.

"My strength is the first pass out of our zone," he said, "to make it easier for our forwards to spend time in the fun zone,' which is the offensive zone, rather than in our end. I'm just going to be steady, try to be a good player and bring it every night."

"He's an excellent player," Tippett added. "He's a very steady player, makes a good first pass. He's a big guy who plays angles very well and has a very good stick. An unassuming player, but does a lot of good things on the ice."

Modry spent a lot of time helping Atlanta play in the fun zone' last season, scoring 7 goals (five on the power play) and 39 points in 79 games, leading Thrashers defensemen in scoring. A smooth skater who is effective at both ends of the ice, he has topped 30 points in each of the last four seasons. Modry also averaged 20:47 of ice time per game, a figure only defensemen Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher surpassed last year in Dallas.

A native of the Czech Republic, the 35-year-old Modry is entering his 15th season of North American professional hockey. He spent a number of years bouncing up and down between the NHL and the minors, before sticking in the top league for good in 2000-01 with the Los Angeles Kings.

Interestingly enough, his assistant coach for the Kings, who was responsible for the power play that Modry helped lead to success, was none other than Dave Tippett. That is one relationship that Modry is eager to renew.

"When he was an assistant coach in LA, he was on the offensive side of the game and we worked together and I learned quite a bit," Modry said. "When I learned I got traded to Dallas and he was going to be my new head coach, definitely I was excited at the chance to work with him again. It was just a great experience in LA, and I'm really thrilled to continue it here."

Also in Los Angeles at the time was defenseman Philippe Boucher, who played alongside Modry on the power play and sometimes at even strength, until he came to Dallas in 2002. Modry has been keeping track of Boucher over the years and is happy to have him as a teammate again.

"He's just rejuvenated his career tremendously out here," Modry said. "He's been contributing to this organization for a long time and he's been an outstanding player. I've really been watching his career, cheering for him. I'm really happy for him and just excited, to be his partner again, to play together on the same team. He's a great person and a great hockey player."

Boucher returned the glowing sentiments.

"I'm very excited about the opportunity to play with Jaroslav again," Boucher said. "He's a great teammate and will add a lot to our group of defensemen here in Dallas."

Tippett indicated that, with their history of pairing up, Modry will likely be Boucher's partner again this season.

"He knows Bouch very well that way," Tippett said. "It's something we'll certainly look at in camp. When players are familiar with each other and one's a left-hand shot (Modry) and one's a right-hand shot (Boucher) and, actually, both play similar games from the other side. So that's certainly something that's crossed my mind."

Modry toiled in LA through the 2003-04 season before signing with Atlanta as a free agent in July 2004. With the lockout eliminating the 2004-05 season, he played just this past season there.

Atlanta battled down to the wire in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but was eliminated in their second-to-last game of the season, a disappointing ending for Modry. Still, he was not expecting to be traded and was taken aback when the phone rang.

"It was a surprise," Modry said. "My agent called me when he was at the draft and said something was going to happen. Things last season didn't end up the way I wanted it, so I kind of sensed something, but it just came to me like that."

When he found out that Dallas would be his destination, Modry began to like the idea more and more.

"When I first spoke to him, my agent told me, 'Hey, Dallas Stars, would be interesting, what do you think about that?' And I said, 'It's a great organization, they always won in the past and they always want to win the ultimate goal.' I've worked with Dave Tippett in the past, and I said I'd be thrilled."

For a player who hasn't played an NHL playoff game since 2002 (when both Tippett and Boucher were still in LA), Modry is fired up about the possibility of winning a lot of hockey games and advancing deep into the post-season.

"You know, for hockey, this could probably be the greatest thing that's ever happened to me," he said. "It has a chance to be something really special."

Modry did point out that when a player is traded, it involves more than just the individual coming to a new team, he has to relocate his entire family. Modry and his wife Jodi have three children and they took the news of moving to Dallas with much less enthusiasm than he did.

"A couple of kids were crying, they didn't want to move out of the neighborhood and miss their friends and stuff," he noted. "We tried to sit them down and slowly explain to them that this is the life of a professional athlete, it's not going to last forever, and we still get to be together as a family. It's unique, it's definitely different.

"For hockey, I'm really excited, it's going to be awesome."

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