Mike Modano’s evening started off surrounded by the cameras and lights, just as his career did and under the microscope, being treated like the star he was destined to become, as he, Eddie Olczyk and Lou Lamorillo were all inducted into the USA Hockey Hall of Fame this past Monday in Modano’s hometown of Dallas, TX.
“It has been a remarkable transition,” Mike said as he met members of the media who gathered from all over the nation prior to the start of the ceremony. Modano said he didn’t get a full grasp of what it was like to represent one’s country until the World Junior tournament in Moscow back in 1987. Alluding to how long it took for them to grow the sport and show the rest of the world the US could play with them, Mike mentioned the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team that defeated the Soviet Union.
“1980 was very pivotal politically with everything going on with the Cold War. I was 10 years old and playing in the Silver Stick tournament in Port Huron, MI when we stopped playing to watch the game in the lobby. Life stopped for a couple of hours. It was a heroic victory.”
As influential as the “Miracle” team was to Mike’s generation, he feels his 1996 World Cup team that defeated Canada opened the door for the players of today.
It didn’t all start off that way for the most prolific US-born scorer, however. Modano said he grew up wanting to play baseball, and quite frankly didn’t even like hockey. But his parents and he struggled with some “problematic” energy and they, together with a family friend took to the ice for the first time and at that moment, the Modano’s had found “an outlet.”
When he was 16, his parents left what would end up being the most important decision in his life up to Mike, as he decided the best way to advance his abilities and get to the ultimate goal of being drafted would be to head north of the border. That’s when former coach, Rick Wilson, called Mike and introduced him to a little town of Prince Albert in Saskatchewan.
From there, he played with some of the greatest players and for some of the greatest coaches the game has ever produced. He also learned valuable life lessons, such as what to do when as a rookie, someone places to live lobsters in your bag; you call down to room service and you have steak and lobster for dinner that evening.
Modano is as well known for his emotion as he is his wrist shot and Monday night was no different, as he fought back tears on several occasions. At one point as he was describing the influence his parents had, he stopped momentarily, and without missing a beat (or looking up) pointed toward his table where his parents were sitting and told his mother to not get up (in reference to his retirement speech where emotions overflowed and his mom embraced him on stage).
“It’s kind of weird how we ended up here in Dallas,” Mike said. “It’s been a long road and journey.” And it has been for number 9. From the frozen backyard in Livonia, MI taking shots at his mom who was equipped with a baseball mitt and trashcan lid for a blocker to being coached by Herb Brooks, the very coach who inspired men of his age back in 1980 to want to play for the US, Mike Modano took every challenge put before him and not only met those challenges, but did so with that poster-boy smile that has become as big a trademark of his as the number 9 on his back.
Through the tears, Modano said he was most proud of being part of the group that brought hockey to Texas. When Norm Green brought the North Stars down from Minnesota, there were maybe 50 kids registered to play hockey. Today, there are over 10,000 and dozens of rinks.
Just to think, the Modano’s were just “looking for an outlet,” Mike said. “I think we found a lot more than that.”