Commentary

Modano, Minnesota exchange gratitude

Former North Stars top pick showered with adulation at place where it all began

Updated: April 11, 2010, 5:31 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- An emotional week ended with Mike Modano wearing a No. 9 North Stars jersey, just like the one he held up as the No. 1 pick in the 1988 draft and wore for four memorable NHL seasons in Minnesota.

Modano, who was given the first star, came out and waved to the crowd, showing off the North Stars logo to big cheers. He stayed for a few minutes and then calmly skated to the dressing room.

Saturday didn't have the dramatics of Thursday's event, which seemed to have the fingerprints of the hockey gods all over it -- Modano tying the score and then striking again in the shootout.

There were no huge goals for Modano on Saturday. He missed the net with one backhand attempt in the second and then didn't score in a 4-3 shootout win for the Stars. This time, he didn't cry, barely holding back tears as the fans cheered in the first period.

"It was close," Modano said of the tears. "I think I used them all up the other night in Dallas."

Saturday was a chance for Minnesota fans to celebrate a player they still see as a hometown boy. Modano grew up in Michigan, of course. But when you're the top draft pick taken by a franchise desperate for hope and you go on to help the team get to the Stanley Cup finals three years later, you win over a city quickly.

Minnesota barely made the playoffs in 1991 as an under .500 team, going in as heavy underdogs.

"To beat Chicago, St. Louis and Edmonton, three of the best at that time, it was a Cinderella story like no other for us that spring," Modano said. "It was a phenomenal run and the way the crowd got into it, it was pretty electric. You get to the point where you couldn't wait to go again next year. That didn't happen for a while. You didn't realize at an early age how hard it is to make it to finals."

Fans in Minnesota thought Modano would help take them on more playoff runs, but two years later, he was flying to Dallas to help build hockey in the Sun Belt.

"Sometimes I really wish I was in my prime playing here [in Minnesota]. Once I left, it seemed to really take off, those next 16, 17 years. I wish I would have had some years in the late 20s to really show what we were really doing in Dallas when I was playing."

It sure seemed like many of the 19,009 (yes, a nod to Modano) in attendance on Saturday took pride in the fact Modano did wind up with a Stanley Cup, even if the franchise was 1,000 miles south on I-35.

There were plenty of old North Stars jerseys among the sellout crowd at Xcel Energy Center. The local television stations ran film of Modano as a rookie, complete with a mullet and his trademark smooth skating style. A few media folks suggested Modano end his career in Minnesota next year as a 40-year-old.

It was clear Modano appreciated the love on Saturday.

"It all began here," Modano said. "The years I had here were real special. If this was the last game, it's nice to get a send off where it first started."

Former North Stars general manager Lou Nanne was disappointed he wasn't there to see it. He still takes pride in the impressive career of his No. 1 pick. Nanne had the tough call of deciding between Modano and Trevor Linden that summer.

"He had one thing that I didn't think Linden had: He was electrifying," said Nanne, who was in Florida with family members Saturday. "He brought people out of their seats. We wanted that at that time. We thought he would be a great player. But when you draft a kid at 18, you don't think he'll be a Hall of Famer. This guy is a first ballot Hall of Famer. He's the greatest American-born forward to play the game and has won a Stanley Cup and has energized two franchises. That's pretty special."

Former teammate Neal Broten came into town from his farm in Wisconsin just to see what he hopes isn't Modano's final game. Broten, who played for St. Paul native Herb Brooks on the gold-medal winning 1980 U.S. Olympic team, gave Modano a list of reasons why he should keep playing.

"He can still play," said Broten, who looks like he could still play at age 50. "I think he still enjoys playing the game. He's 39 and his mind, hockey skills and sense are still there. His legs are still pretty good. I mean, why not? It's up to him. I'm sure he's capable of still playing two or three more years."

[+] EnlargeMike Modano
AP Photo/Andy KingMike Modano helped lead the North Stars to the Stanley Cup in 1991 and won over Minnesota.

Broten remembers hearing all kinds of things about how great Modano was before he arrived in the NHL.

"He definitely lived up to it," Broten said. "I was impressed right from the start. He was an incredible hockey player who could do everything. He could shoot the puck, skate, saw the ice, had hockey sense and was a good size. He was just an all-around fantastic hockey player."

Wild defenseman Nate Prosser, 23, grew up watching Modano do all of those things. Prosser, from Elk River, Minn., played in his first NHL game in his home state Saturday. He couldn't believe his timing that it might be the final game played by Modano.

"He has a lot of skill and he's American-born, so he was a guy that made me 'ooh' and 'ahh' growing up. He had the pretty goals and nice plays, and that's something you wanted to see and do. He also seemed like a good guy off the ice and like he was having fun on the ice."

Modano looked like he had fun Saturday. He also looked emotionally drained and said he wasn't sure he could go through all the good-byes again. He spoke to the media briefly after the game, signed more autographs and slowly headed out of the arena. He said he had to do some soul-searching and will probably decide in July what he wants to do.

"It's tough deciding what to do and how to move on and how to let go of the game," Modano said. "It's something that's been a part of your life since you were 7 years old and suddenly you stop and you wake up the next morning and it's all over. I guess that's the hardest part."

Richard Durrett covers the Stars for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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