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Mo's back: Modano's Minnesota return is a quarter century in the making

Few players in the history of hockey in the state have captured hearts the way Mike Modano did more than 25 years ago

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

Mike Modano has always wondered what it would have been like to parade the Stanley Cup through the Twin Cities. 

What might have happened had the North Stars been able to finish off their Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1991? Or what might have been had the Dallas Stars' championship in 1999 had come with the team still planted in Minnesota?

Drafted by the North Stars with the first overall pick in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, Modano debuted with the club the following spring as an 18-year-old. He came of age in Minnesota for five years before following the club to Texas, where he would go on to become arguably the greatest American-born player in NHL history.

Despite all the accolades, the Hall-of-Fame inductions and the championship, Modano always wondered what it'd be like to come back to Minnesota.

He won't have to wonder any longer.

The Wild announced on Thursday that Modano will be joining the organization as an Executive Advisor, bringing full circle a hockey career that began in the state some three decades ago.

Modano's role with the Wild will not include day-to-day involvement in the hockey operations department. Instead, Modano will have a chance to work hand-in-hand with owner Craig Leipold and team president Matt Majka on a number of business-related ventures. He'll serve as a business ambassador of sorts, by supporting the team's sales, corporate partnerships and community relations efforts.

However, this isn't just some token title. Modano is planning to relocate to Minnesota with his wife, Allison, and their four children. If they aren't here by the middle of next season, they'll certainly be in town in time for the start of the 2020-21 season. 

Modano begins his new role with the team officially on Sept. 1, but will make an appearance on behalf of the club during the NHL Awards in Las Vegas next month.

"[Returning to Minnesota] always crossed my mind after I retired and went back to Dallas and hung around," Modano said. "Once we made the move out to Phoenix, then we had kids, more and more, it became about, we've got options about where we want to go. Where do we want to raise them? Minnesota kept popping up in our heads."

A native of Livonia, Michigan, Modano has Midwest roots. Allison does as well. Born in St. Louis, her dad is former Golden Gopher and current NHL analyst Joe Micheletti, just one in a line of hockey standouts from Hibbing. 

With an abundance of history and family in the state, the decision to make the permanent move to Minnesota was a no-brainer. 

"It's actually been on the radar even before Craig and I started talking about this," Modano said. "We love the Midwest, we miss the four seasons. There's always been this connection and there was always this thought about what we were going to do with the kids as they got older, where do we want to raise them?"

That desire to move back to the state, as well as a lingering itch to somehow get back into the game, led Modano to reach out to Leipold through a mutual friend last August. 

Over the past several months, the two have developed a relationship while at the same time, hammering out the details of what a business partnership could look like.

"You've gotta find a role for a guy like him. You have to find something," Leipold said. "Ever since that first phone call, it just seemed to click. We had a number of conversations over the phone and some texts, and it got to a point where he was watching all of our games and we'd be texting back and forth." 

"I just felt a really good connection, a positive connection with him."

Leipold knew the fit was right when he brought Modano down to the Wild dressing room after a game. Young players were eager to introduce themselves while the veterans couldn't wait to give him a hug and catch up. 

After that, Leipold brought Modano to a cocktail party for a local charity. The room was filled with fans, sponsors and guests and as soon as Modano walked in, he was the center of attention.

"You could see they were just attracted to his persona. He was the icon in the room and everybody just gravitated towards him," Leipold said. "He's very cool about it, he's sociable and we all kind of noticed that, how well he interacted with our fans and our players and our staff. We just said, we gotta find a home for him."

"He is well known, he's well recognized. He's still one of 'our guys.' He still has it. Whatever the 'it' is in this market, he has it. He's going to be great for us."

The "it" is one of the main reasons why longtime North Stars General Manager Lou Nanne wanted to bring Modano to Minnesota in the first place. With the top selection in the 1988 Draft, there were three potential options for the North Stars at that pick. 

But from the very beginning, Nanne said he knew Modano would be the selection.

"When we drafted him, I told [former North Stars owner] Gordon Gund, we're drafting a player with as much charisma as I've ever seen. He just makes people get out of their seats. People really connect with him and I think it's something that would be unbelievable for the franchise to really start building it back," Nanne said. "And that's the same kind of aura that he has about him today. I don't think anything has changed." 

"He's got something that really makes people want to be around him, enjoy being around him and make them feel good about it."

In addition to working on the business side of an NHL organization, Modano said he's looking forward to potentially being a hockey dad.

Modano's twins, four-year-olds Jack and Kate, are just getting into the sport, and moving to Minnesota would provide them an opportunity to grow up in the same kind of hockey-rich environment that Modano himself had in Michigan. 

Because his children weren't born during his playing career, they have little knowledge of just who their dad is. 

Every once in a while, Modano will be asked for an autograph or a picture. Kate will ask her dad if he knows that person or if he's a friend.

"Allison has some stuff on TV, but then they'll want to watch YouTube," Modano said. "They get a kick out of it, but I don't think it all computes."

Modano's favorite is when Kate provides him with skating tips when they're on the ice together.

"She's giving me pointers on how to stop and how to skate. She's like, 'OK dad, bend your knees and when you stop, you've gotta do this,'" Modano said. "And I'll just be like, 'OK.' They just have no clue [I used to play in the NHL] so it's funny."

Last month, Modano sent a tweet with video of he and his kids on the ice. Son Jack was wearing a Wild sweater, which set off a bit of a social media frenzy in the State of Hockey.

Tweet from @9modano: Knocking the dust off the old tacks.. 

"They've both really taken to [hockey]," Modano said. "I was talking to Craig about that and then all of the sudden, a box of goodies and jerseys showed up from Craig. The kids loved it."

Whether two-year-old daughter Reese and six-month-old son Luca follow in Jack and Kate's love of their dad's sport isn't known, but the possibilities have Modano thrilled for the future. 

"That's what got me really excited about coming there," Modano said. "Seeing how that will unfold with them and hockey ... it's a really neat thing to just sit back and watch this thing. I now know what all these parents have been talking about."

That return to the area has allowed Modano an opportunity to reflect on some moments from the past. 

In his final game with the Stars organization, ironically in St. Paul against the Wild, Modano skated around the Xcel Energy Center ice in an old North Stars sweater in what was an emotional post-game sendoff. 

Approached before the game by former Wild VP of Communications and Broadcasting Bill Robertson about putting on the sweater and taking a victory lap, Modano said he felt an obligation to salute the fans that had helped him launch a legendary career on the ice.

"I couldn't wait to get off the ice and [get that sweater]," Modano said. "I needed to take a skate around and, more or less, thank the fans for everything and for their loyalty and for everything they did for me in the early part of my career. I don't think I would have been where I was if I hadn't started my career in Minnesota."

"It was a way for me to thank them and appreciate them for what they meant to me. There were so many familiar faces who were still at the Wild games who were North Stars season ticket holders who I saw at the Met Center. Being able to take a lap and thank them and let them know how much they meant to my career was special."

An appearance on the ice in a North Stars jersey at the 2016 NHL Stadium Series Alumni Game brought back floods of old memories of Modano in the green and gold.

Now, Modano hopes to be a part of new memories with fans and partners as a member of the Wild organization in a homecoming that was far overdue.

"I can't wait to be at the games and reconnect with the fans in that town," Modano said. "The opportunity that Craig and Matt have given me to be around them and help learn the business and help them out as much as I can in the community, the business side ... I can't wait to get started."

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