DALLAS — Of course, the big story heading into Saturday’s game between the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center is the pregame ceremony where the iconic No. 9 worn by Stars franchise player Mike Modano will be raised to the AAC rafters.
But there is also a game to be played and one with big playoff implications in the NHL’s Western Conference and the two current Stars who were teammates with Modano in Dallas not all that long ago definitely want to bring a smile to Mo’s face on his big night by getting the full two points against the Wild.
"Obviously, he’s a special player, a big part of the Dallas Stars organization and growing hockey here in Texas," Stars captain Jamie Benn said. "He’s still pretty much the face of the franchise and he always will be. (I’ll always remember) his jersey flapping when he skates and his All-American boy style I guess."
Dallas veteran defenseman Trevor Daley is the other current Stars player who was in the room with Mo during his long run in Big D. And like Benn, he considers it an honor to have skated with a future Hall of Famer and also to be able to see his number retired.
"I think I played with him for four or five years, six years, I don’t know how long it was. Just one of the greatest, to be able to play with someone like that is pretty cool," Daley said. "It goes without saying to see his number going up in the rafters, I’m not surprised by it. It was bound to happen eventually."
First-year Stars head coach Lindy Ruff never coached Modano and was on the wrong end of the 1999 NHL Stanley Cup Finals won by Dallas over Buffalo, but as someone who knows the game and can spot true greatness whenever he sees it, he feels some of his players could benefit from watching how No. 9 handled his business on the pond.
"Not only was he a great goal scorer, he was a good playmaker," Ruff said. "I think there’d be pieces of that I’d like to take and show Val(eri Nichushkin) . (Modano had an) incredible backhand, incredible decisions, tremendous skater as everybody knew. The playmaking was incredible and I think that’s the thing that stood out for me."
Modano a central figure in the Stars’ run to the ’99 Cup, but he also is continually mentioned and rightfully so as being a big reason why hockey at the lower levels became so popular in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and why the hockey scene in DFW continues to be quite robust and healthy even today, some 21 years after the Stars relocated to Big D from Minnesota.
"There’s a lot of kids from here that are coming up in the ranks or that are even playing in the NHL now that if it probably wasn’t for Mike Modano and the Dallas Stars, who knows what else they would be doing? It’s a pretty special night," Daley said.
Minnesota heads into Saturday’s game on a five-game winning streak, so even though the Wild have lost 18 of their last 19 games at the AAC, they figure to be anything but an easy out, even on such a special night not just for local hockey fans but Dallas sports fans in general.