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Westland's Mike Modano ready to celebrate 'big one'

Mike Heika
The Dallas Morning News

As retirement parties go, Mike Modano's has been a doozy.

Since walking off the ice in 2011, the Westland native has had a tear-filled announcement in a Dallas hotel ballroom that ended his 21-year career, entry into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, number retirements for the Prince Albert Raiders and the Stars, and now will go into The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Monday.

"It's been a wild ride, but if you're going to end it, then this is the way to do it," Modano said. "This is the big one."

Modano said he fully understands the enormity of the Hall of Fame and is awed by the process. He will be inducted with Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake and former Red Wings goalie Dominik Hasek — with whom he had tremendous battles — and said simply looking at the players already honored is humbling.

He will be introduced by Hall of Famer and good friend and another former Red Wing, Brett Hull, and expects to be joined during the festivities by Joe Nieuwendyk and Ed Belfour, who were recently inducted into the Hall off the 1999 Stars Stanley Cup team.

"I think that's the best part of it," Modano said. "To have your family there and teammates there, it just makes everything perfect. There's going to be a lot of tears, but there's also going to be a lot of great memories and looking back."

Modano has had his share of that since his retirement, and he's cried at pretty much every event. After all, he was just a kid from Westland who was driving his parents crazy and happened to fall in love with the feeling of skating.

"I was a hyper kid, and my dad wanted to find an outlet for that, so he put me in hockey," Modano said.

He took off with the sport, was the first overall draft pick in 1988, and finished his career with 1,374 points in 1,499 games — the greatest NHL scorer born on U.S. soil.

Modano holds many of the Stars' scoring records, has won countless medals with USA Hockey, and helped change the footprint of the league by making the move to Texas a successful one.

"When you look at hockey here, you look at how he was able to engage the fan," said Stars president and CEO Jim Lites. "He was electrifying; he was able to make the game fun; he was a player who was easy to sell."

Modano has become something of an icon in Dallas, along with the likes of Dirk Nowitzki and Troy Aikman. He continues to work with the Stars as an adviser and alternate governor, but he also has moved on to a different phase of his life.

He and his wife Allison are raising twins — Jack and Kate — who recently turned 4 months old. That's a heavy burden for a guy who turned 44 in June, but one he is lovingly embracing.

"The timing worked out well for me," he said. "I like that I get to be around them every day. I like to get to watch them grow. I'll just go in there and watch them sleep sometimes; it's an incredible experience."

And while it would be easy to say the hockey gods have touched his well-coifed head and guided his path, Modano also has dealt with plenty of hardship. There were injuries, slumps and a team bankruptcy that removed owner Tom Hicks (who had promised Modano he would end his career with the Stars) and forced him to look for a new team. Heck, they moved his team and told him to find a new life in Texas when he was just 23.

And yet, every time there was hardship, there was a new kind of success. While he still bemoans the arm laceration that abridged his final season in Detroit and ended his career too quickly (he believes), Modano spent the down time reconnecting with his family.

While his first marriage to singer Willa Ford didn't work out, he found Allison Micheletti, the daughter of former NHL player and broadcaster Joe Micheletti. And while he never thought about leaving the hard-nosed hockey fans of Minnesota, he can't imagine his life if he hadn't moved to Dallas.

"You get a lot of time to reflect with all of this stuff, and it's been really emotional," he said. "There are so many people you want to thank, and so much you want to talk about. I just hope I get to everyone."

He has to, because this is "the big one."

Hall of friends

Modano will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday with Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake and Dominik Hasek. The trio were heated rivals for years.

Blake (a defenseman with the Kings, Avalanche and Sharks) and Modano tangled for years in the Western Conference. Forsberg, a center with Colorado, went head-to-head on numerous occasions with Modano, including two seven-game series in the Western Conference finals. And Hasek was Buffalo's goalie and on the ice when the Stars won the 1999 Stanley Cup.

"It's great to be in this class, because we all know each other so well," Modano said. "There are a lot of highlights there with that group."

Inductees

■Rob Blake: 20-year veteran, won Cup with Avalanche in 2001

Peter Forsberg: Won two Stanley Cups with the Avalanche and won the Hart Trophy in 2003

Dominik Hasek: Six-time Vezina Trophy winner and won Stanley Cup with Red Wings in 2002 and 2008

Mike Modano: Westland native holds record for most goals and points by a U.S.-born player

Pat Burns: Coached for 14 years and won Cup with Devils in 2003

Bill McCreary: Officiated 1,700 regular-season games and 297 postseason games

Kevin Allen: Ypsilanti resident has been hockey writer for USA Today since 1986

Pat Foley: Michigan State grad is the TV voice of the Blackhawks for 31 seasons

Modano's moments

Mike Modano ranks his favorite moments in his career:

1. Drafted first overall in 1988, going ahead of Trevor Linden: "They kept us in the dark the whole time, so I didn't know until the announcement was made. That was a big deal for a kid from the U.S. There was real pride in getting that."

2. Winning the 1999 Stanley Cup: "It was such a great team, and such a great climb. I mean, as much as it meant to win the Cup, it was winning it with those guys and Bob (Gainey) and Ken (Hitchcock), and all the work we put in. That was a special team. It was a great feeling."

3. Going to the Stanley Cup Finals with the 1991 Minnesota North Stars (Minnesota lost to Pittsburgh): "It was so different with that team, because nobody thought we were going to do it. We came in as an underdog and beat some very good teams, and the whole ride was incredible. You do that at that age (20) and you think you're going to do it every year for the rest of your career."

4. Becoming the all-time point and goal-scoring leader for U.S.-born players: "They were both on the road, so that was a little strange, but it was nice to get them. I had been chasing them for a while, so it was nice to finally have them and be able to move forward. They mean a lot more as the years go by."

5. Standing on the ice for his final two games with the Stars, a teary goodbye to Dallas fans and a smiling goodbye to Minnesota fans while wearing his old North Stars jersey: "You really couldn't have scripted it better for a goodbye. I mean, the games were great, the moments were great and the fans were great. If that's the way it has to end, it would put a really nice cap on things."