Mike Modano steals the show in likely farewell to Dallas

Mike Modano

Credit: AP Photo / Tony Gutierrez

Mike Modano celebrates after scoring a goal in the third period of Thursday's game against the Anaheim Ducks.


by TIM COWLISHAW / The Dallas Morning News


Posted on April 9, 2010 at 12:09 AM

Updated Friday, Apr 9 at 2:11 AM

There is crying in hockey, as it turns out. And Stars fans gave it their lasting approval Thursday night at American Airlines Center.

With 5:28 left in the third period of what was mostly meaningless hockey between two teams bound for nowhere, Mike Modano looked up at the scoreboard and fought back the tears as he had done earlier in the night.

This time he lost the battle.

As the crowd continued to cheer in what was probably Modano's final game in Dallas, Modano bowed his head and put his gloves to his face. Players for both teams stood in the faceoff circle and tapped their sticks on the ice.

The delay continued, and when Modano raised his head, tears were streaming down his cheeks as he lifted his glove to wave to the crowd.

They didn't even know the good stuff was yet to come.

Modano, who had assisted on the Stars' first goal, scored the tying goal with 1:47 to go in regulation before he and longtime linemate Jere Lehtinen scored the only shootout goals in a 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.

In some ways, the final home game of another lost season for the Stars made for an inconclusive curtain call for the franchise's all-time scoring leader.

For one thing, Modano has not announced his retirement. But the five-year contract he signed in 2005 is expiring. Modano turns 40 in June. He has indicated that when he finalizes his decision this summer, he expects to call it quits.

"It certainly felt like the end," Modano said. "But I might come down with Favre-itis."

Modano said one of the reasons he didn't want his parents to attend the season finale in Minnesota was to leave the door open for a possible return. And he said his father is trying to convince him that he's not finished.

But in all likelihood, this was it. And what better way to exit than as the legitimate "first star" of the night?

As star of a local team, Modano's longevity is unrivaled.

Even though Modano was an established star in Minnesota when the franchise moved here, he has spent 16 seasons in a Dallas uniform. He even lost a 17th year because of a lockout.

The Cowboys, the Mavericks, the Rangers – they don't have any 16-year players. Add to that the fact that Modano has been here right from the start. Combine that with the level of play he brought to the ice as the leading scorer among the league's U.S.-born players, the manner in which he sold the game in football country and, yes, his appeal to the team's female fan base.

For that reason, Modano represents the Stars in ways that no single player will ever truly represent the Cowboys.

In a way, the first time I covered Modano was strikingly similar to what apparently will be the last.

In 1995, the Stars' first preseason game was against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Modano, coming back from the ankle surgery that had forced him to miss the playoffs the previous spring, flew around the ice, scoring two goals, getting one assist and even causing the Ducks' Bobby Dollas to leave the game with a sprained shoulder.

One of those typically ferocious Modano forechecks, of course.

Thursday night, the Stars and the Ducks (no longer Mighty) played a game that had about as much importance as a preseason contest. And, counting the shootout goal, Modano again collected two goals and an assist.

In the 15 years in between, I had the good fortune to see Modano at his best. When the Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999, current GM Joe Nieuwendyk was a deserving Conn Smythe Award winner.

But Modano also was a force throughout the playoffs, finishing the Finals with a broken wrist and collecting assists on all four Stars goals in the 2-0 and 2-1 victories that sealed the Cup.

Even if the top center's role was turned over to Brad Richards some time ago, Modano's skills have not eroded to the point that he can't produce the occasional magic moment. Stars fans in attendance Thursday learned that much.

If it was a satisfying end to Modano's career, with no playoffs around the corner, it left Stars fans wondering who and what comes next.