DALLAS — Mike Modano is the first to admit his 21-year NHL career didn’t end quite like he had hoped it would. And the Dallas Stars franchise icon is clearly well within his rights to feel that way, after he spent the first two decades of his NHL career with the Stars, helping them to win the 1999 Stanley Cup and being an eight-time NHL All-Star before he was cut loose after the 2009-10 season.
As Stars fans know, No. 9 finished his storied career as a Red Wing, but a wrist injury limited him to just 40 games in what proved to be his final season in the league as Modano announced his retirement last summer.
However, even now, after he’s been out of the game for right around a year, he admits the way it all ended left a pretty bitter taste in his mouth. “I played three good months and pretty much missed the rest of the year. It was hard to kind of move on from that,” he said. “It’s tough to walk away when you finish like that. You’d hope it was a more positive ending there.”
The ex-Dallas center won’t be eligible for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame for at least two more years and who knows when the Stars will retire his number and hang it from the rafters of the American Airlines Center, but late last week, Mo got a nice honor when he learned he was among the three-member class to be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.
“Pretty thrilled and honored about it, along with Lou Lamiorello, who I thought was in there years ago. I didn’t know he was not in there and Eddie Olcyzk, who I had a chance to play with in ’90, ’91 with some Canada Cup teams. So it’s two great guys to go in with,” he said.
Modano’s name has recently been in the news because of a rumor that he might be interested in playing one more season, possibly for Dallas’ Pacific Division rivals, the San Jose Sharks. But while the affable Michigan native said it would be nice to play one more year on the pond, he went on to add that scenario was far from a realistic one for him now at age 42.
“I don’t know. I think I’m in Lalaland, Dreamland thinking about it. You never know. I don’t know how that would work out but I can’t really see it happening,” he said. “In the back of my mind, I’d love to see something work out where I can go back for a year but I don’t know. I don’t see it.”
Seeing as how it’s clear how much the former Stars fixture misses the game he excelled at like few other American-born players have, Modano waxed poetic about what exactly he misses most about his time in the NHL, and also about which aspects of being a player he didn’t exactly miss.
“I think it’s more the games and playoffs [that I miss the most],” he said. “I think that’s what you kind of live for as you’ve gotten older. I think there’s some stuff you continue to hate-practices, meetings, media obligations, stuff like that. Travel is tough in Dallas certainly but it’s certainly the games and playoffs. That’s what you remember when you had success and a lot of fun playing a game. Those were the best times, in the spring.”
He admits his first full year of retirement has absolutely flown by, but having so much down time for the first time in well over two decades has definitely been therapeutic for someone who has had hockey play such a central point in his life for a majority of his life.
“It’s been good. I’ve had a lot of fun. I think I was a little paranoid at the start. You kind of wonder what you’re going to do, what you want to get into and get involved,” Modano said. “So I was kind of scattering all over the place trying to figure out what I’m going to do. I think after a couple months talking to people I just felt I was going to take a year and not do anything. Just travel around, visit with some friends, play some golf and enjoy that.”
And while the future Hall of Famer realizes any hopes of playing one more year might be nothing more than a pipe dream, at the same time he’s also keeping a close watch on how the NHL’s current labor situation plays out. The agreement between the league’s owners and players runs out on Sept. 15 and with the idea of missing October and November being floated out there, he won’t ruling out coming out of retirement and playing one more season, especially if the NHL schedule is truncated to 60 or maybe even 65 games, similar to the shortened slate the NBA played last season after a lockout wiped out the first month-plus of the season.
“We’ll see how that works out but I don’t think I’ve ever been able to fully close the door on that deal [retirement],” Modano said. “My last year in Detroit was a lot of fun. I wish it ended differently with the injury and everything. That kind of set me back. I wish it would have ended better. It’s been hard to let go.”
But the former Dallas icon didn’t just earn induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall because of what he did in the NHL, finishing as the top American-born scorer in league history and also the holder of numerous Stars franchise history. The man wearing No. 9 was also inducted because of his impressive resume for Team USA, which included three trips to the Winter Olympics as well as numerous other high-profile events like the Canada Cup and World Championships.
“Well, it [being inducted into the US Hockey Hall] is right up there [with my other accomplishments]. Being American-born and being part of all those national teams at the Olympics and the Canada Cup tournaments that we’ve been a part of was great experiences and very lucky to be fortunate to get those opportunities to travel around the world and be part of all areas of Europe, Russia and places like that. So it was neat, a great call to get, very humbling,” Modano said. “USA’s been a big part of my life since I was about 15. It’s opened a lot of doors for us internationally to be able to play the game.”