- Scott Burnside, NHL
- 0 Shares
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Mike Modano paused at the doorway, preparing for a new experience.
The Dallas Stars captain, Stanley Cup champion, Olympic silver medalist and 16-year NHL veteran who was chosen to lead Team USA in the 2005 World Championship was about to enter a dressing room where he knew few of his teammates.
"Not too many familiar faces in there," Modano said. "Kind of a changing of the guard."
Modano is playing in his first world championship since 1993, a testament to his own NHL success and that of the only franchise for which he has played. He returns to the tournament at a time of tremendous upheaval for the game, as well as a time of personal reflection.
"It catches up on you. You feel [the end of your career is] a long way away, but it creeps up on you fast," said Modano, who, at 34, is the oldest member of Team USA.
That creeping is why when general manager Don Waddell made it clear he was going to dramatically revamp the U.S. roster, Modano made it equally clear he wanted to be part of the transition. Waddell and assistant GM Jim Johannson, feeling Modano's skating style and playmaking skills would need little time to shake off rust from the NHL lockout, took him up on the offer.
"Mike Modano was very proactive telling us he wanted to play," Waddell said. "We decided that if he wanted to go, then we'd be foolish not to take him."
During past international tournaments, Modano had the luxury of simply showing up and playing. Sitting alongside American luminaries such as Brett Hull, Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch, Keith Tkachuk, Tony Amonte, John LeClair and Mike Richter, there was little pressure to stand up and give a rah-rah speech or to shoulder much leadership responsibility.
"There were always a lot of guys that had a lot of clout in our locker room," Modano said. "Now it's a little different. Now what you do and what you say holds a little more value than if you were in the room with Chelios, Leetch and those guys."
Modano took to the role immediately, setting the tone for evenings out during training camp by suggesting when it was time to call it a night.
"I've always learned since I was a young player to watch the older guys, how they prepare themselves and how they take it to the ice," said Modano, the first pick overall in the 1988 draft. "That's why I've always tried to do my talking on the ice."
Defenseman Aaron Miller has played with Modano on the international stage before and noted his leadership style will be a change of pace for Team USA.
"He's laid-back. He's a bit different than some of the other guys," Miller said. "I'm really glad to see him be a part of this. I'm sure every forward is hoping he'll get a chance to play with Mike."
And therein lies a little problem. While Modano had to familiarize himself with a host of new teammates, many of the younger players had to get over their initial excitement of being around the second-highest-scoring U.S.-born forward in NHL history.
"The first day, I was just in awe," said Yan Stastny, son of Hall of Famer Peter Stastny. "Even though I've been around hockey all my life, it's pretty amazing. Mike Modano is a phenomenal player. [He has] always been a star. To be on the same ice as he is, it's a little intimidating at first."
Like many gifted offensive players, Modano has had to work at shedding the perception of being simply a point producer and proving his ability to lead a team. While he averaged a point a game during the 1999 and 2000 Stanley Cup playoffs and led the league in assists both postseasons, he played a major leadership role in the Stars' first Stanley Cup championship in 1999 and their run to the finals in 2000.
Johannson, who is also the senior director of hockey operations for USA Hockey, said Modano is one of those players who is invested in what the team accomplishes.
"My sense and my feeling is that is what this tournament is for him, as well," Johannson said.
Doug Weight, who played with Modano at the last four major international tournaments, said it wasn't a surprise that Modano was among the small core of veterans asked to return to Team USA.
"There are a lot of guys they could have called that didn't play this year," Weight said. "He still wants to play. He's still got the hunger."
Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.