ST. PAUL, MN - It didn’t quite follow the Hollywood script this time, but still, the circle is now (probably) complete.
In the same place where he started his NHL career over two decades ago, franchise icon Mike Modano played what was likely his last game, fittingly enough, back in Minnesota, as the Dallas Stars completed the 2009-10 season Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
It was quite the spectacle when he came out for one final salute to the fans after it was over, as Modano skated out on the ice with an old North Stars jersey, just like the one he wore as a highly-touted teenager so many years ago.
“I thought about wearing it in warmup and there was some ideas, but that was the one I still think of, of those times and my experiences here in Minnesota,” said Modano, who played the first four years of his career there before the franchise relocated to Dallas in 1993.
The fact that the Stars prevailed 4-3 in a shootout didn’t really matter, as both teams were already eliminated from the playoff race. Clearly, Modano, who has been the face of the franchise since those days in Minnesota and is now strongly considering retirement, was the focus of the night.
“It’s hard to believe that it could be over, how fast it’s gone - the 17 years here and 22 with the team,” said Modano, who was the first overall selection of the Minnesota North Stars back in 1988. “It feels like yesterday it started.”
Still, it felt good that the Stars rallied from a 2-0 first period deficit to tie it on goals by captain Brenden Morrow and Steve Ott 3:12 apart early in the second period. And when Ott scored his second of the night and career-high 22nd goal of the season at 2:52 of the third period to even it up at 3-3, it set up another dramatic ending, but this time, it was Stars rookie Jamie Benn who won it in the shootout.
Modano did have a chance to come up with what would have been the game-winning assist, but after receiving Modano’s cross-ice pass, Brad Richards fired a one-timer from the right face-off circle off Minnesota netminder Niklas Backstrom’s mask with 1:40 left in regulation.
Modano then had another opportunity to win it for the second consecutive game in the shootout, but Backstrom made a nice pad save on his attempt.
Somewhat emotionally drained after the storybook ending in Thursday night’s thrilling 3-2 shootout victory over Anaheim, Modano admitted that he was a bit low on energy.
“It was kind of tough. After the other night, it’s kind of tough to get back up emotionally again and go through it again,” acknowledged Modano, who recorded the 4,194th shot on goal of his career in the contest. “We looked like we were a little tired from the other night, I certainly was. A lot went into the other night, the last 48 hours have been tough and I’m beat, but I guess I got plenty of time now to get it back together.”
“I think everyone on our entire (team) plane is a little deflated after what everyone experienced the other night,” said Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. “You don’t get opportunities too many times in your career to witness something like that. I think everybody in the building felt it. I’ve had people from around the hockey world e-mail and call and say what an incredible sight that was, and you had to be there to believe it. It was kind of surreal.”
It may have been unrealistic to expect Modano, who turns 40 on June 7, to come through in such dramatic fashion as he did Thursday, when he scored the game-tying goal with 1:47 left and then notched the game-deciding goal in the shootout.
Still, he did generate some offensive opportunities and had a prime chance to score late in the first period. He received a cross-ice pass as he was cruising across the slot and had a large portion of an open net staring at him, but his backhander ended up just wide.
“I missed the net there and we had some movement on the power play but I was unable to score,” he said.
Like he did on Thursday when the American Airlines Center gave him a lengthy standing ovation, Modano seemed a bit emotional as he saluted the Minnesota crowd of 19,109 who gave him a lengthy standing ovation midway through the first period after a tribute on the scoreboard.
“It was great tonight,” Modano said of the generous applause he received 17 years after leaving. “The fans were great and that ovation in the first was phenomenal. I really appreciated it.”
Modano, who amassed 123 goals and 309 points in 317 games wearing those sharp-looking North Stars sweaters, spoke fondly of his formative years in Minnesota.
“This was really special, to start your career here, the fans, and people that meant a lot to my start, my life and my career,” said Modano, who helped lead the North Stars to the 1991 Stanley Cup Finals with 20 points in 23 playoff games. “Certainly, I’ve been lucky to have the best set of fans I could possibly have.”
While he is leaning towards hanging up the skates this summer, Modano still noted that he had not yet made up his mind, and will wait a while to decide what his future holds.
“It’s tough, when you get that type of reception and you get that love from the fans and the mutual respect that I have for all of them here and in Dallas, it makes it certainly tough,” he said of contemplating the end. “But I got a lot of time to think about it. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but you have to build up that drive and motivation over the summer at some point. I guess there are a few variables that have to play out in order to make that decision.”
With the possibility that this was his final game, Modano reflected briefly on all the people he has met along the way that helped shape him into the player - and man - he is today.
“I could go on forever,” he said. “Certainly a lot of personnel along the way - Lou Nanne, Les Jackson, the Gund family, Norm Green, Tom Hicks, those guys gave me opportunities, Bob Gainey. The list goes on - Dave Tippett, Ken Hitchcock, even these guys, Crow, Huddy and Stuie, those guys were real patient with the whole last year, with everything going on, they’ve been great about it. It’s a long list, a lot of them had a big impact on me.”
Modano finished his 20th NHL season with 14 goals and 30 points in 59 games. Those leave his career totals, virtually all of which are franchise records, at amazingly lofty levels: 1,459 career games played (18th in NHL history), 557 goals (24th on the all-time list), 802 assists (29th), 1,359 points (23rd all-time), 92 game-winning goals (tied for 10th in history). That’s not to mention all his playoff totals, with his 174 games, 58 goals, 87 assists and 145 points all ranking as franchise highs as well.
If this really was the end, Mike, we’ll miss you.
- Modano ended the season 1-for-6 in shootouts, and 8-for-27 for his career.
- Defenseman Philip Larsen, skating in just his second NHL contest, earned his first point, an assist on Ott’s second goal that tied the game 3-3 early in the third period.
- Morrow returned to the lineup for the finale after missing the previous two games with a foot injury. He left briefly towards the end of the second period for undisclosed reasons, but did return to finish the contest. His goal allowed him to reach the 20-goal plateau for the fifth time in his career.
- Richards was held off the scoresheet, leaving him at 91 points for the year, just short of Modano’s Dallas record of 93, set back in 1993-94, in a single season.