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Ushering in a new era?

by Olivia Kiespert / Dallas Stars

The Stars were admittedly in a somber mood at practice on Monday, one day after the team was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Still, Dallas has a lot to play for in the final three games of the season. Both Mike Modano and Marty Turco could be playing their final games as Stars, while youngsters Matt Climie and Philip Larsen look to gain valuable NHL experience.

Although he has not officially made a decision on retirement, Modano is heading into the final games of the season with an appreciation for what he has accomplished in his career.

“I’m approaching it like it may be my last game in Minnesota, it may be my last game in Dallas on Thursday,” Modano said. “There’s always that possibility. I’m going to try to enjoy it and cherish those moments that I’m going to have. Ultimately, I think the final decision won’t come until probably later in the summer.”

Modano’s career has spanned 20 seasons, all with the Dallas Stars/Minnesota North Stars organization, and he has forever changed the record books for not only the club but the league as well.  He holds the record for goals (556) and points (1,357) by a U.S. born player. Modano ranks tied for 24th in NHL history in goals, is 29th in assists (801), 23rd in points and is tied for 10th in game-winning goals (92). He is the franchise’s all-time leader in games played (1,456), goals, points, power play goals (156), shorthanded goals (29) and game-winning goals.

Perhaps though, his biggest contribution is his impact on hockey in the south. Modano has been the face of the franchise since the team moved to Texas, and Dallas has had a love affair with him ever since – and vice versa. He admits thinking that Thursday’s tilt against Anaheim could possibly be his last in Dallas is a little hard to take in.

“The fans have been great,” he says. “I’ll probably get a little upset thinking that this could be the last game and it could bother me in ways. I’m sure it’s going to be a little emotional at times just trying to get through that game.”

Modano still flies down the ice and still fires off some of the sharpest passes in the league. And looking at him, no one would guess the center turns 40 in June. However, he’s had a difficult year, suffering a rib injury that kept him out of 13 games and, more recently, undergoing an appendectomy that held him out of another nine games. So just how will he know when it’s time to hang up the skates for good?

“I think it’s more mental than anything,” he explained. “I think you still feel or believe you can do things out there well and be productive and consistent. But mentally, I think it’s the grind every day, traveling, the push to motivate yourself to try to accomplish things – it’s tough. I think that’s the tug-of-war you have.”

Another long-time Star who could possibly play his last games in Dallas is goaltender Marty Turco. Turco, whose contract is up at the end of the season, has played all nine of his NHL seasons for the Stars taking over for Eddie Belfour. With Dallas trading for Kari Lehtonen in February, it appears Turco’s days in a Stars uniform are coming to an end.

Like Modano, Turco has left his mark all over the Stars record book. He ranks first in franchise goalies for games played (508), wins (261), shutouts (40), assists (22) and 20-win seasons (7).

Turco is scheduled to start one more game this season, and it will likely be the home finale Thursday against Anaheim. The start is a fitting tribute to someone who has done great things on the ice for the Stars and off the ice for the community through his charity work.

“I’m playing for my family, playing for extended family – Stars fans, the organization, people I’ve grown to know and love over the years,” he said about playing Thursday. “If it is my last game, I want it to be memorable for positive reasons. No matter what happens from here on out, I have great memories and a personal legacy for myself of my time in Dallas. It’s been truly awesome. Whether or not I’m here again next year, it still provides moments to honor and reflect not only on just hockey, but on life. I’ll always come back to feeling like a pretty special and lucky guy.” 

As some prepare for the possibility of moving on, young Stars look make their case to be the next franchise player. Matt Climie has gotten the nod to start in net Tuesday against Chicago. With Turco’s potential departure and Lehtonen primed as Dallas’ next starter, Climie has been given the opportunity to move in as the team’s backup goalie.

He was recalled Thursday from the Texas Stars, Dallas’ primary development affiliate in the American Hockey League (AHL). He played in three games last season for Dallas, posting a 2-1-0 record with a 2.92 goals-against average. Climie has appeared in 42 contests for Texas this season, going 21-16-3 with a 2.40 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.

Also looking to get some playing time is defender Philip Larsen. The blue liner was recalled Saturday from Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League. He is hoping to make his NHL debut before the season ends, which would make him the first Danish defenseman to play in the NHL.

“I haven’t played my first game yet, but I really hope I’m going to get a game this year,” Larsen says. “I’m really proud to be [the first Danish defenseman in the NHL]. I’m proud to show Denmark, show Europe and show [the US] that we can make some good players.”

Larsen participated in the Stars’ training camp this year before returning to the SEL. Despite his brief stint in Dallas last fall, his talent was immediately apparent to the Stars’ coaching staff.

“From the preseason, I really liked how he played and he’s only going to get better,” Crawford observed. “He’s just in the infancy of his professional career. There’s going to be a lot of highs and a lot of lows for him along the way, but he looks like he’s got something that everybody loves to see and that’s talent. He’s a tremendously gifted skater and he’s gotten bigger this season. He’s more of a control power play guy; he’s your true point guard. The point guard is good because you look at our needs; our need is exactly there.”

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