When Mike Modano pulled a No. 90 Red Wings jersey over his head at an Aug. 6 press conference at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Hockeytown couldn’t have written a better script.
Modano grew up in suburban Detroit playing for the Little Caesars AAA Hockey Club and, after 20 seasons with the Dallas Stars franchise, is coming back home to finish his career with the Red Wings.
“I am thrilled. It’s an Original Six team with tons of history and world-class players,” said the 40-year old Modano, who signed a one-year deal with Detroit worth $1.25 million plus incentives. “I couldn’t think of a better place to be.”
An eight-time All-Star, Modano is the top American born scorer in NHL history with 557 goals and 1,359 points. He led Dallas to the Stanley Cup in 1999 and played in three Olympics and helped the United States win the silver medal in 2002.
But the Stars missed the playoffs the last two seasons and Modano didn’t fit into the team’s rebuilding
plans. And while Dallas didn’t want him, Detroit most certainly did. Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland called Modano on July 1, the day he became a free agent and, along with Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, applied the full-court press.
“They really sold the chance to come home and play with some great players, have some fun and win,” said Modano, whose parents still live in his boyhood home in Westland, Mich. “It really opened my eyes that they thought I had more hockey left in me.”
“We just thought it was a great fit and coming home would energize him,” Holland said. “There isn’t any pressure on him to carry the team. We have a lot of different weapons in the locker room that on different nights can give us a chance to win. Mike would be one of those guys.”
Still, Modano’s last two years in Dallas had been “draining” and he wanted to make sure he had enough drive left to continue playing.
“I was emotionally and mentally finished with the game after last year,” he said. “But I think a fresh start will rejuvenate me. When this opportunity came along it really lit a fire under me. This is a clean slate – just go out there and have a great maybe final year and hopefully win.”
Detroit has had success with older players, including Luc Robitaille, Chris Chelios and Brett Hull, who all helped the Red Wings win Stanley Cups at the end of their careers. Rave reviews from Hull, Chelios and current Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi helped Modano make his decision.
“Those three guys had a big impact,” Modano said. “There wasn’t one guy I talked to that had a bad word to say about anything here.
“Older players come here and have great success and they seem to get a second wind. I hope it goes that same way for me.”
Modano’s return to Motown reunites him with Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, who sponsored the Little Caesars youth teams that Modano played on growing up.
“I had him as an amateur and that was great,” Ilitch said. “He starts here, he ends up here. It’s a big thrill for us.”
As an 11-year old, Modano represented the Red Wings when his Little Caesars team played in the
prestigious Quebec Peewee Tournament.
“I just remember having the Red Wings jersey on, it was the greatest thing in the world,” said Modano, who recalled poking around the Red Wings locker room when his team practiced at Joe Louis Arena.
As a 15-year old, Modano’s Little Caesars squad won the 1985 USA Hockey Midget National Championship.
“We went nuts,” Illitch recalled. “In all America, we were the best. The coach kept raving – this kid is going to make the NHL.”
That coach, Chris Coury, remembers Modano’s talent, but also his focus.
“Even back then he was a great skater with terrific hockey sense. He knew what he wanted to be,” said Coury, now in his 43rd season as a youth coach.
Modano joins a group of forwards in Detroit that includes Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, and is expected to center the Red Wings third line, between Dan Cleary and Jiri Hudler, and play the point on the second power-play unit.
“It’s easy to play with guys like that and I can’t wait for that chance,” Modano said. “There are high expectations but the opportunity to win is something you’re always chasing after when you get older.
“It’s incredibly exciting to be here. It’s more than just coming back home. It’s coming back home with a good chance at winning the Stanley Cup.”
Philip Colvin is the editor of Michigan Hockey.
Mike Modano’s Milestones
June 7, 1970 Mike is born in Livonia, Mich., to Michael and Karen Modano.
1988-89 Modano showcases his talents on the international arena as a member of the U.S. National Junior Team.
June 11, 1988 Modano becomes only the second-ever American-born No. 1. draft pick when the Minnesota North Stars selected him first overall at just 18-years-old.
Oct. 5, 1989 Modano scores his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot against the New York Islanders. Modano would finish with three points in his debut game.
1990 Modano was selected to the NHL All-Rookie team, losing the Calder Trophy for best rookie to controversial 31-year-old contender, Sergei Makarov of the Calgary Flames, who had formerly played pro hockey in Russia.
1991 Modano helped lead the Minnesota North Stars to the Stanley Cup Finals with 20 points in 23 playoff games. The North Stars fell to Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins after six games.
1991 Modano helps lead the upstart U.S. squad to a second-place finish at the Canada Cup tournament.
1993-94 The North Stars relocate to Dallas where to date Modano remained the last player on the Stars to play for the original North Stars.
1992-94 Modano posts back-to-back 93-point seasons, including a personal best 50-goals during the
1993-94 season (his first season with the newly acclaimed Dallas Stars).
1996 Modano scores seven points in helping the U.S. stage an upset over Canada to win the World Cup of Hockey.
1998 Modano hits the Olympic stage as a member of the U.S. Olympic Team. Two years after winning the World Cup of Hockey, the Americans finish off the podium in Nagano, Japan.
1998-99 Modano and the Stars win the Stanley Cup after defeating the Buffalo Sabres in six games, pushing the final game to triple overtime. Modano and the Stars would reach the finals again in 2000 but lost to the New Jersey Devils.
Nov. 15, 2002 Modano scores his 1,000th NHL career point.
2002 Modano dishes out six assists in helping the U.S. win a silver medal at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
2003 Modano trades in the “A” of an assistant captain to become the captain of the Stars.
2006 Modano scores a pair of goals as the U.S. finishes a disappointing eighth at the Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy.
Aug. 25, 2007 Modano marries actress/model Willa Ford in a small ceremony in Athens, Texas, where Brett Hull and Darryl Sydor served as Modano's co-best men.
Nov.7, 2007 Modano becomes the highest scoring American-born player in the NHL with 1,233 points, pushing just one point past the previous record held by Phil Housley.
March 13-17, 2007 Modano scores his 500th goal on March 13 vs. the Philadelphia Flyers, and becomes the highest American goal scorer just four nights later with 503 career goals.
Aug. 15-17, 2009 Modano joins 34 American stars at an Olympic Orientation Camp in Woodridge, Ill.
April 8, 2010 Modano plays his last game as a Star in front of a sold-out crowd in Dallas, bringing the longtime star to tears on the bench with a standing ovation from fans.
June 29, 2010 Dallas Stars General Manager and long-time friend Joe Nieuwendyk announces that the Stars will not re-sign Modano, making the 40-year-old a free agent.
Aug. 3, 2010 Modano agrees to a 1-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings, returning to his home state.