The Detroit Red Wings have a rich hockey history, but the Motor City isn’t the only place in “The Mitten” known for its hockey pedigree. The state has produced some of the best talent to ever grace the NHL, but what specifically would a top line of all Michiganders look like? Let’s dig in.
C – Mike Modano (Livonia, MI)
Mike Modano was in good company when it came to selecting a center born in Michigan. Historically good players like Doug Weight (1033 career points), David Legwand (618 career points), and Ryan Kesler (573 career points) would have each made a fine selection, but Modano, an NHL, IIHF, and United States Hockey Hall of Famer, won out. He was either captain or alternate captain for the Dallas Stars from 1993-2010.
Modano started his NHL career as a 19-year-old with the Minnesota Northstars and stayed with the organization for 20 seasons. During his time in Minnesota and Dallas, he recorded 1359 points on 557 goals and 802 assists, ultimately winning the Stanley Cup in the 1998-99 season. Modano finished his career in his home state, playing 40 games for the Red Wings before hanging up his skates with 1499 NHL games played, the most of any Michigan-born player.
LW – Brian Rolston (Flint, MI)
Brian Rolston was an NHL journeyman, spending parts of his 17-year career with the New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, and New York Islanders. His career spanned 1256 games, and he seemingly found chemistry on any team that he went to.
Rolston won the Stanley Cup the very first year he was in the league, hoisting it at just 19-years old with the Devils in the 1994-95 season. He recorded 761 points on 342 goals and 419 assists and retired after the 2011-12 season.
RW – Alex DeBrincat (Farmington Hills, MI)
Yes, this one may be a bit of a stretch, but considering the 23-year-old already ranks 32nd in scoring among all Michigan-born players, it may not be as outlandish as it may appear. In just four seasons of service with the Chicago Blackhawks, Alex DeBrincat has already notched 211 points, having already surpassed the century mark in both goals and assists. He currently leads the Blackhawks in goals and shows no signs of slowing down.
DeBrincat has been an impact player at essentially every level of hockey that he’s played at. He was both the CHL and OHL Rookie of the Year in 2014-15, and just two seasons later, he earned the OHL’s Red Tilson Trophy (Most Outstanding Player) and Eddie Powers Trophy (Most Points) en route to an OHL Championship.
D – Mark Howe (Detroit, MI)
Defenseman Mark Howe may have had certain advantages considering his father is Mr. Hockey, but don’t fault him for taking full advantage. Howe is one of the most prolific blueliners in Michigan history after putting together a Hall of Fame career that spanned 16 seasons in the NHL. He spent time with the Philadelphia Flyers, Hartford Whalers, and Red Wings, where he amassed 742 points in 929 games.
Howe’s professional career actually started in the World Hockey Association (WHA), where he played six seasons and won two league championships. Here’s a little-known fact: He began his professional career as a forward but switched to defenseman – a move that, despite almost certainly lowering his offense output, still paid dividends in the end. He was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003-04 and the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010-11.
D – Brian Rafalski (Dearborn, MI)
Brian Rafalski’s career wasn’t an overly lengthy one – he spent 11 seasons in the NHL split between the Devils and Red Wings, but his lack of longevity was not to his detriment. He won three Stanley Cups (two with the New Jersey, one with Detroit), twice scored the most goals by a defenseman (2000-01, seven goals; 2007-08, four goals), twice finished the playoffs with the best plus/minus rating (2000-01, +10; 2008-09, +11), and played in two NHL All-Star games.
Rafalski’s success extended to the international level, as well, winning Olympic Silver Medals with team USA in 2001-02 and 2009-10. The latter medal came with plenty of accolades, including Olympic best defenseman, Olympic most points by a defenseman (eight), and a nod for the Olympic All-Star team. He was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014-15 and ranks ninth among all Michigan-born players with 515 points.
G – Ryan Miller (East Lansing, MI)
Ryan Miller was one of the only no-brainers on this list, as he leads all Michigan-born goalies in wins (390) and is near the top in almost every other statistical category. In fact, if you take into account his 794 career games, Miller’s save percentage (.914) and goals-against average (2.64) are tops for any goalie who has played 430 games or more.
Miller is highly decorated, winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie in the 2009-10 season – not bad for a goalie who was drafted 138th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. He was inducted into the Michigan State University Hall of Fame in 2013-14 and recently won his 390th game, breaking a tie with Dominik Hasek for 14th overall on the NHL’s all-time wins list. (from ‘Ducks’ Ryan Miller reflects after milestone victory,’ OC Register, 03/18/2021)
Coach – Craig Patrick (Detroit, MI)
Who better to lead this all-Michigan-born team than Detroit’s very own Craig Patrick, who helped coach the 1980 USA Olympic Team to its unforgettable gold medal run in Lake Placid, New York. Patrick was not a highly decorated player during his time in the hockey world, but he was instrumental in helping the “Miracle on Ice” come to fruition.
He was also the general manager for the 2002 US Olympic Hockey Team, which won a silver medal. Needless to say, Patrick’s the right man to steer this team’s ship.
Michigan-Born 1000 Game Club
Michigan’s hockey roots continue to take shape around the NHL, and to date, 10 players have suited up for at least 1000 games in the league. Those players include:
- Modano (1499 games played)
- Rolston (1256)
- Doug Weight (1238)
- Kevin Hatcher (1157)
- David Legwand (1136)
- Gordie Roberts (1097)
- Mike Grier (1060)
- Kelly Miller (1057)
- Derian Hatcher (1045)
- Ryan Kesler (1001)
Michigan-Born 300-Win Club
In addition to Miller, John Vanbiesbrouck is a member of the 300-win club, compiling at 374-346 career record in 20 NHL seasons spent with the New York Rangers, Florida Panthers, Flyers, Devils, and Islanders. He won the 1985-86 Vezina Trophy with the Rangers, appeared in three All-Star games, twice being named to the first-or-second team.
Vanbiesbrouck helped lead the 1995-96 Panthers to the Stanley Cup Final (lost 4-0 to Colorado) and was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007-08.
Michigan’s Impact in The Hockey World
Michigan continues to leave its mark in the hockey world, and this list could look very different in even just a few years. Sometimes the stars even align, and hometown heroes like Justin Abdelkader (Muskegon MI), Luke Glendening (East Grand Rapids, MI), and Dylan Larkin (Waterford Township, MI) get the opportunity to play for their hometown fans. All of this confirms what is already common knowledge to anyone who hails from the state – hockey is pure Michigan.
A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Covers the Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers.