I remember my first NHL hockey game. The Dallas Stars were hosting the Buffalo Sabres in their first season at Reunion Arena.
A buddy and I drove from Nacogdoches to Dallas for a game. We even took a Canadian with us to try and explain hockey's nuances. When he struggled with explaining icing, we had a hunch we had been duped.
We did not struggle finding Mike Modano on the ice. He was the guy skating circles around the Sabres in a game the Stars lost, if memory serves.
When the Stars first arrived from Minnesota in 1993, Dallas was nothing more than a minor-league hockey town that occasionally hosted NHL exhibition games. The Stars didn’t have many selling points. So they sold Modano, the young speedster from Livonia, Michigan, who was five years removed from being the no. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft.
Mike Modano did more than just play hockey. He turned Dallas into a place where kids could pick up a stick, take up the game and not have to drive to the Galleria for ice time.
Today, Dallas is a hotbed of hockey. There are dozens of high school and youth teams in the area. The Stars have helped provide those youth places to play, thanks to the Dr Pepper StarCenters. There are actually players that were born in Dallas who came up through the area junior ranks that are now playing professional hockey.
Modano was a driving force of that movement. On Monday, he gets his due.
On October 15, Modano will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame at a ceremony at the Plaza of the Americas. Modano retired in September of last year after a 21-season career that saw him emerge as one of the NHL’s best all-time players.
He holds every Stars offensive record of note. The career numbers that stick out are his 561 career goals and 1,374 points (goals combined with assists), the most for any U.S.-born NHL player.
He won a Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999, made eight All-Star teams and earned a silver medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics. His numbers place him among the NHL’s top 25 goal scorers of all-time, and that should be his ticket to the International Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto when he’s eligible.
But Modano did more than just play hockey. Along with his teammates on those early Stars teams, he helped turn Dallas into a place where kids could pick up a stick, take up the game and not have to drive to the Galleria for ice time.
Stars CEO Jim Lites recently told a story about the first Dr Pepper StarCenter. The team needed a practice facility when it moved to Dallas. They found an abandoned rink and within 90 days signed a sponsorship agreement with Dr Pepper to convert it into a practice facility. Instead of simply making the rink their private playground, the Stars opened it up to the public.
As the Stars got better and Modano became more popular, the Stars rotated practices to different facilities, allowing fans to see Modano in action. Today there are five Dr Pepper StarCenters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. There wouldn’t be nearly as many if not for a player like Modano. He was the face of the franchise for more than a decade.
One of my favorite Stars games was on April 10, 2010 — Modano's last game in Dallas. The aging forward had a flair for the dramatic that night, scoring the game-tying goal in the final two minutes and scoring a goal in the shootout.
At one point, late in the game, Modano was shown on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. He cried.
Modano played in the NHL for one more year in Detroit. But that’s beside the point, really. He arrived in Dallas just like the Stars — another northern transplant.
He returns on Monday as a Hall of Famer and one of the most important sports figures in Dallas history. When it comes to hockey in Dallas, he built this city.