Dom Lunardo | April 30th, 2020
Over the last 15-20 years, the United States has seen a surge of talented, American-born hockey players. From Mike Richter, Tony Amonte, Jamie Langenbrunner, Bill Guerin, Pat LaFontaine, Brian Leetch, Patrick Kane, Ryan Suter, Auston Matthews, and Jack Eichel, the U.S. presence in the National Hockey League continues to rise at a steady rate. Enter Livonia, Michigan native, Mike Modano, and you have perhaps the cream of the crop of USA hockey. Let’s take a closer look at the NHL career of Mike Modano and the road he paved for the next generation of hockey players south of the Canadian border.
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Draft: 1st overall, 1988, Minnesota North Stars
NHL Clubs: Minnesota North Stars,Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings
NHL All-Star Game Appearances: 8
Stanley Cup Winner: 1999 (Dallas)
Hall-of-Fame Inductee: 2014
Modano and the Minnesota North Stars
As a youngster, Modano was athletic, energetic, and had a real passion for sports. His father, Michael Sr. was a big sports fan and ice-skating coach. It was his father who instilled the values of hard work and dedication, which he passed down to his son. Once Mike had a stick in his hands, the rest, as they say, is history. When Modano was just 16 years of age, Rick Wilson who was head coach of the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League (WHL) at the time, invited him to come to Saskatchewan on a tryout basis. In Modano’s first game with the team, he scored a hat-trick. Modano’s three seasons in Prince Albert saw him score 118 goals including two 100+ point seasons.
Deemed the “Original North Star”, Modano’s road to the National Hockey League from rather humble beginnings started in 1988. During the 88’ NHL Entry Draft, the Minnesota North Stars selected Modano with the first-overall pick, making him only the second U.S. born player ever selected first overall, after Brian Lawton did so back in 1983. Since then, the NHL has seen Bryan Berard (1995), Rick DiPietro (2000), Erik Johnson (2006), Patrick Kane (2007), and Auston Matthews (2016) all selected first-overall at the NHL Draft. By 1992, Modano amassed a grand total of 92 points in a single-season with the North Stars and earned a spot at the NHL All-Star Game.
A Star for the Stars
Prior to the 1993-94 season, the North Stars relocated to Dallas and officially became known as the Dallas Stars. NHL hockey was alive deep in the heart of Texas! Modano’s first season in Dallas saw him post 50 goals and 93 points. It wasn’t long before he would become the face of the franchise on a very good Stars team. By the spring of 1999, the Stars would go on an incredible playoff run and found themselves in the Stanley Cup finals. Their opponent? Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres.
Led by the brilliance of Modano, who scored 23 points in 23 games that spring, the Stars would go on to win the Stanley Cup in controversial fashion after Brett Hull scored in overtime in game 6. This was all the more impressive given how Modano broke his wrist during game 2 of the series. From 1996 to 2002, Modano averaged 78 points per season and hit the 40-goal plateau six times during that span. “Big D” as a non-traditional hockey market was firmly on the map.
As a player, Modano had a pretty impressive array of skills and talent at his disposal. At 6’0, 210 pounds, Modano was a powerful and flawless skater with silky smooth feet and long, lanky strides. His edgework and balance were a perfect complement to his skills with the puck on his stick. A perennial, generational goalscorer, Modano was a feared offensive force, who used each of his skills to good effect night after night at the National Hockey League Level. They say that “speed kills”, and this was especially true for Modano who was a physical specimen at the forward position.
In the prime of his career, Modano possessed excellent vision, and read the game very well. He could score 30+ goals at the drop of a hat, a feat he matched nine times throughout his illustrious career and had a real knack for creating offense. Modano also had a pretty extensive international career. In addition to playing at the 1988 and 1989 World Junior tournaments, Modano also appeared for Team USA during the 1996 World Cup and was a 3-time Olympian representing the United States in 1998, 2002, and 2006 Winter Olympic Games.
Mike Modano was not only an excellent hockey player, but he also left quite the legacy on the game when he decided to retire in 2011. One of the most talented U.S. born hockey players in NHL history, Modano’s ability to change a game will have a lasting effect on the game as a whole. Modano was a “pioneer” for USA Hockey. A perfect example of how it takes sacrifice, disappointment, and sheer hard work to reach the pinnacle of any sport. When you talk about the game’s all-time greats, Mike Modano is a name that typically takes center stage.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images