DALLAS — There was a sea of fans in green Saturday outside the American Airlines Center before the Dallas Stars retired Mike Modano's No. 9 at the Stars- Wild game.
It was Ralph Strangis, the Dallas Stars commentator since 1993, who summed up the thoughts of fans, former teammates and others gathered inside the area. "We love you," he shouted with enthusiasm.
The large crowd that overflowed outside the arena was a reminder of how Modano, now 43, changed the face of hockey in North Texas.
Fans roared as the highest-scoring American-born NHL player walked onto the ice Saturday night following a video highlighting his career. Former teammates from the Stars' Stanley Cup win lined up behind a podium where Modano later addressed the crowd.
In a video played during the ceremony, Stewart Gavin, Modano's first roommate in the NHL, recalled meeting a shy young man who sounded as though he had "marbles in his mouth." However, it didn't take long for the "scrawny" player to wow his teammates.
"The first time I saw Mike play it would have been in practice," he said. "He had a broken wrist and after a few minutes we saw him shoot the puck like no one's business."
Modano started his career with the Minnesota North Stars and made the move when the team traveled to North Texas to become the Dallas Stars. And it was with Modano's help that the Dallas Stars won the 1999 Stanley Cup.
Bob Gainey also spoke at the ceremony. Gainey coached Modano on the North Stars and served as the general manager in Dallas.
"The move to Dallas was tainted with a lot of anxiety that evaporated quickly once we landed the fans," he said. "The fans took to the team, particularly the characters they could recognize as talented and skilled players, and Mike Modano was at the top of that list."
And then it was Modano's turn to speak.
"Thank you Mike," yelled a fan as Modano paused after saying his first few words.
"It took me a long time to figure out how I would put into words what this city and you fans meant to me," he said. "But two guys sitting up here tonight with me, I couldn't be here without them. They taught me what commitment was and dedication, hard work and especially respect for the game. I want to thank Bob Gainey and Stew Gavin; I wouldn't be here without those guys."
He talked about the start of his career in Minnesota and how his passion for the game was birthed in the city.
"I couldn't have picked a better place to start my career," he said.
Overcome with emotion, Modano once again paused as he talked about No. 9 taking its place next to the jerseys of Bill Masterton, Bill Goldsworthy and Neal Broten.
He then addressed the highlight of his career, the 1999 Stanley Cup win.
"The collection of guys we had on the team I think are the greatest group of guys that I've ever had the pleasure to play with," he said. "And to have them all here tonight speaks the depth of our friendship."
And it was another fan's yell that made Modano grin and chuckle out loud.
"Thanks for putting the biscuit in the basket," someone boomed.
"And finally to the fans and city of Dallas," he said. "From the moment I got off that plane in 1993, Dallas felt like home."
Following the end of his hockey-playing career with the Stars in 2010, Modano played one year with the Detroit Red Wings. The two-time Olympian was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012 and announced his retirement from hockey on Sept. 23, 2011 in Dallas. He now serves as the executive advisor and alternate governor with the Stars.
To end the night of celebrations with even more excitement, the Stars won against the Minnesota Wild in a close game that ended with a 3-4 score.