Accompanied by his wife Mandy (as she is known when not using her ‘stage name’ Willa Ford) as well as his parents, Modano attended the Texas Sports Hall of Fame Induction Banquet presented by Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Companies for the Class of 2007 Tuesday night at Baylor University’s Ferrell Center in Waco.
The 37-year-old Modano, a native of Livonia, Michigan, was thrilled to be hockey’s standard-bearer for his adopted state.
“It’s a great honor, obviously, being the first hockey guy going in, in the land of football and baseball,” Modano said. “This is a huge deal to me and something that I am really excited about and something that I take pride in.”
“He’s the first hockey player ever inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and so that meant that we had to go build us a new display case, and it’s a big one,” said Steve Fallon, executive director of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. “The thing about Mike Modano is he is one who almost transcends his sport and he is certainly, with all of the records that he has set in the National Hockey League, very deserving of being inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s about time. He’s just been phenomenal throughout the course of his career. The thing about the Texas Sports Hall of Fame that makes it so difficult to get into is the fact that it encompasses all sports.”
Joining Modano on the podium Tuesday night were such Texas luminaries as Granbury High School girls basketball coach Leta Andrews, former Texas A&M and Houston Oiler defensive tackle Ray Childress, former Texas Tech football coach Spike Dykes, former North Texas State and Dallas Texans running back Abner Haynes, former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, and former Baylor and Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Jim Ray Smith.
Clearly, each of his fellow inductees have left impressive legacies, but none have had anywhere near the impact on their sport’s growth in the state of Texas that Modano has had.
Arriving with the Minnesota North Stars when the club re-located in 1993, Modano, 23 at the time, was the marquee player that helped sell a new major league sport to the Metroplex, and has enjoyed the prime of his career here. Taking into account just his years in Dallas, Modano would still own the franchise’s all-time records for career goals (402 of his NHL record 525 for an American) and points (967 of his US-born record 1,276).
“Dallas kind of resurrected my career,” Modano said. “We came down from Minnesota, got a fresh start, teaching the fans the game, growing with them, growing with the fan base to a level that we never thought it would be down here, and to have a good relationship with them, it meant a lot to my career.”
The youth hockey scene has exploded since that time, increasing from just 250 children playing in the Metroplex in 1993 to over 5,500 today, with Modano serving as primary role model for the thousands of kids who have taken up the game in the intervening decade and a half. The upward trajectory of the Stars’ fortunes certainly helped the process, culminating, of course, in the 1999 Stanley Cup championship.
“For the 15 years, we’ve put a lot into it, we’ve tried to grow the sport as much as we could,” Modano said. “Obviously, our product on the ice was great, so that grabbed a little bit of attention, but overall, we’ve always been trying to be public-friendly, where we go out of our way to try to make people visible and for fans to enjoy the relationship between players and fans. It’s been amazing, the growth of it all, the numbers that have changed.”
Stars coach Dave Tippett, who played and coached for several years with the IHL’s Houston Aeros in the mid-to-late 1990s, credits Modano and the Stars organization, which has built eight rinks, with 15 sheets of ice, for much of the growth the sport has enjoyed in the state and praised his induction.
“I think it’s a wonderful accomplishment, it speaks very well for him and for the organization,” Tippett said. “It speaks well for not just how our team is perceived, but how hockey is perceived in Texas. I spent five years in Houston and hockey in Texas is a fast-growing game, and it’s because of people like Mike Modano. We have players getting drafted who are native Texans, which speaks volumes for the amount of growth in the sport. And if you’ve got to put a face on hockey in Texas, it’s probably Mike Modano. It’s a very worthy award.”
“This is something that Mike has earned because nobody has grown the game of hockey in Texas more than Mike Modano,” added former teammate and current Co-General Manager Brett Hull, who also attended the induction ceremony. “As good as he is on the ice, he is an even better guy off the ice and I feel very honored to have had the opportunity to play with him and still watch him over his illustrious career.”
One testament to his ability to influence the state’s perception of hockey is his recognition factor outside the arena.
“Those who don’t even follow hockey know who Mike Modano is, and he just sort of transcends sports,” Fallon noted. “I don’t care if you’re a baseball fan, a football fan, a basketball fan - if you are a sports fan, you appreciate what Mike Modano has accomplished and particularly, if you’re a Texan, you’re proud and appreciative of what he’s accomplished for your state.”
Modano acknowledges that his extended stay here has made him feel like a real Texan.
“I’ve always felt comfortable here, I felt it as soon as we came down,” Modano said. “I always felt that this was home, that this was where I wanted to be when I finish my career and live afterwards. As of now, that’s still the plan.”
Hopefully, that’s still a few years off. Unlike other Halls of Fame, the Texas Sports HOF doesn’t require that a player be retired to be inducted, although Modano was the only active athlete among the Class of 2007.
“The only requirement for induction is to have contributed significantly to Texas Sports history and he has reached the point where he has certainly done that,” Fallon said.
So although he got off to a bit of a slow start his year, Modano is still producing at close to his career rate, having registered 18 goals and 50 points in 72 games, including two assists in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Colorado. While center Mike Ribeiro
has taken over the mantle of the club’s top offensive threat, Modano, just two tallies shy of his 16th 20-goal season, remains a key component to the Stars’ success.
“The game that he played (Sunday) was the best game he has played in a long time,” Tippett said. “The challenge for him is to keep that level of intensity and commitment there. If he does, that makes us a better team. Ribeiro has been our lead guy and has taken a lot of that responsibility and if Mike (Modano) can step up and take some of that responsibility, we will become a better team. The challenge will be, ‘Can we have two lead guys going into the playoffs?’ Time will tell.”
Time will also tell whether or not this be the last Hall of Fame Modano will be enshrined in, which is unlikely. As the NHL’s all-time American leading scorer, Modano should eventually be a shoo-in for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minnesota, and chances are, will even make it all the way to the big one, the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.