Nearly everyone in Texas knows at least one thing about hockey. Even if they don’t know the rules, current rosters or who won the Stanley Cup last season, they know one thing: Mike Modano.
He brought hockey to Texas. He broke numerous franchise records on his way to becoming the league’s highest-scoring American-born player of all-time. He won a Stanley Cup and an Olympic silver medal. He almost single-handedly grew the sport beyond anyone’s wildest dreams in one of the least-expected states for hockey development. It was only a matter of time before Modano would be eternally honored with jersey retirement ceremony, and the Dallas Stars carried it out perfectly Saturday night.
Green Carpet Ceremony Kicks off Night
The Stars tackled the difficult task of balancing Modano’s accomplishments mostly earned in Dallas without ignoring the history of the Minnesota North Stars. The pre-game green carpet event kicked off the night. The beauty of the event was that it was not just a tribute to Modano. It was a tribute to the glory days, specifically the Cup-winning team of 1999 and the people who made coming to Dallas, winning the Cup and staying in Dallas all possible.
Instead of individual speeches, applause, cheers and chants told the story of every person that walked down the carpet. Chants of “Eddie” filled downtown Dallas as Ed Belfour made his way to the arena. Elongated yells of “Guy” came from the crowd as Carbonneau stepped out of his vehicle and onto the carpet. In those moments, in their quick appearances, the past was honored. Fans were taken back to the glory days. Players were recognized by those that idolized and cheered for them nearly 15 years ago. As they walked the carpet waving, taking pictures and signing autographs, both the players and the fans showed their love and respect for one another through joyous reminiscence.
Members of the North Stars had their moments on the carpet as well. Even those who were not familiar to the fan base in Dallas received loud cheers and applause. The appreciation was powerful. Even though some fans may not have been very familiar with Norm Green, they knew that he was instrumental in bringing the franchise to Dallas, in bringing Modano to Dallas and in giving them a team to love and root for for generations to come.
No introduction caused more noise than when the Stanley Cup was brought out. It was as if it was June 1999 again with a packed, raucous crowd. Blinding flashes scattered from every angle, phones were held at least as high as eye level catching whatever glimpse possible and everyone within several feet of the carpet reached out to touch the Cup as it was carried by. The green carpet event was over. As if that was not great enough, it was time for the big ceremony.
The Ceremony Begins
Fans were urged to be in their seats by 5:50 p.m. and by six o’clock, the arena was nearly full. For a team that is overshadowed by more popular local sports and has been in the lower-half of attendance records over the past several years, that is remarkable. To have American Airlines Center sold out and nearly filled an hour and a half before the drop of the puck is in and of itself a credit to Modano and what he meant to the fans and town. In fact, it was not just sold out, it was a record crowd of 19,109.
A large, white curtain circled below the jumbotron at center ice, hiding the stage and set up of the main ceremony. The opening video began with Green commenting on what Modano meant to hockey in Texas. An instrumental cover to Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” played in the background of the video. The song was the Stars’ theme during their 1999 Cup run. The song itself took fans back to the brightest part of the franchise’s history, but then Modano highlights ran interwoven with him sharing his life story. The audience cheered at nearly every pause in the powerful video.
With a bang, the video ended, the curtain fell to the ice and on a stage at center ice, the 1999 Stanley Cup-winning team stood. The arena went wild. The players wore replicas of the jerseys they had on the night they won the Cup. Just when it couldn’t have gotten any louder, the Stanley Cup was announced and former captain Derian Hatcher carried it overhead from the corner boards to center ice before placing it on a solitary table on the stage. Ralph Strangis, the play-by-play commentator who moved to Dallas with the team in 1993, opened openned by saying “and they said it wouldn’t last,” received with even more cheering.
One by one Strangis and color-commentator Darryl Reaugh presented individuals that were very close to Modano and that played big parts in his development as well as the team’s growth. Current and past owners and general managers were announced as well as his wife and parents. Before the man of the night was called to the stage, a touching video showcased Modano’s life from childhood to his final game as a member of the Stars.
Modano was then called to the stage. Young skaters in full hockey gear and white Modano jerseys lined either side of the walkway. He fist-bumped each one as he walked and saluted the crowd. He took the stage to continuous cheers and stood by the Cup. Strangis’ speech was very personal, heart-felt and endearing. He articulated what Modano meant to the city, the team, the fans and himself. A video then introduced Modano’s first roommate in the NHL, Stewart Gavin, and he made his way to stand by Modano on the stage. Reaugh then followed up with a speech filled with laugh-out-loud comments and innovative vocabulary, as expected from Reaugh.
A nearly two-minute crazed ovation ensued when Reaugh called Modano to the podium. He kept his composure and soaked it in. He looked to the ground and shook his head as if he is still amazed and in awe of the reception he constantly gets from fans. His speech was perfect. He thanked everyone he needed and wanted to thank. He mentioned everyone that helped him throughout his career, starting from his father’s friend who helped get Modano started in the sport of hockey. He had the right mix of written and spontaneous lines that made the speech genuine. He mixed in personal stories, heartfelt thanks, jokes and tearful memories.
One thing that stood out to me was that nearly the entire arena stood the whole ceremony until Modano spoke. Once he began his speech, everyone in the area sat down, including his teammates. It felt like a tremendous sign of respect, as if everyone was standing to honor him and then sat to take in every single word he said without any distractions.
The Banner is Lifted
Following his speech, Modano embraced his old teammates on stage and made his way down a walkway to witness the banner being lifted. Along the walkway were some of the most legendary players from the different teams in the metroplex. Dallas Cowboys legends Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, Dirk Nowitzki and Rolando Blackman of the Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers great Michael Young shook hands with Modano as he made his way to the banner.
Modano waved to the fans once more. Tears filled his eyes as the banner was slowly lifted off the ice. It stopped slightly above glass level as his parents and wife joined his side. The crowd continued to cheer as the banner was raised to the rafters. The ceremony concluded with a video recapping Modano’s last game in a Stars uniform and one more loud burst of cheers and applause from the crowd ensued. The Stars wore Modano jerseys spanning his entire career for warm-ups. Throughout the game, video messages from various people were played, including current players who were inspired by number nine.
Just in the seats around me, I noticed many Modano jerseys and the people that wore them ranged from a young child to an elderly couple. Whether a Stars fan or not, there is no denying what impact Modano had on the growth and development of hockey in Texas and the sunbelt states.
The Stars put together one of the best ceremonies imaginable for one of the most deserving people in the team’s history. There may not be a perfect way to thank and honor someone responsible for an immeasurable amount of contributions to their success, but the Stars came as close as possible with their jersey retirement ceremony Saturday night.