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Modano, long a model for other U.S.-born players, has rejuvenated himself and Stars

March 02, 2003|From Associated Press

DALLAS — This has been a season of milestones for Mike Modano, and a year of rejuvenation.

Modano has scored his 1,000th point, played his 1,000th game and become only the second American-born player with 400 goals and 600 assists.

"Eventually the years have piled up and the numbers have piled up to all of a sudden come to this point," said the 32-year-old Modano, who is in his 14th NHL season -- all with the Stars.

More importantly, Modano is finally having a good time. The resurgence of the Stars under new Coach Dave Tippett has re-energized one of the best American-born players and the name most synonymous with Dallas hockey.

"Dave's certainly brought a lot of fun back in the game," Modano said. "We don't have too many meetings, not congested with a lot of information. We're left alone to go out there and play the game and react to that."

Dallas is again one of the NHL's top teams, with a commanding lead in the Pacific Division and in a tight race for the league's best record. Modano made his first All-Star start and is on pace for his first 90-point season since 1993-94, the team's first after moving from Minnesota.

"Out on the ice, he's a step ahead of everybody, even the guys on the bench. He's made the play before we even actually saw the play developing," said teammate Aaron Downey.

"He's been called the ultimate superstar because he is a great player and does great things, but is also a very good team person," Tippett said. "He's jumped on board with the things we've talked about as a team from the start. He's been right at the forefront."

Modano is no longer thinking about leaving. He wants to play beyond his contract that ends after next season.

That's not how he felt last year, when the Stars went through a midseason coaching change with the firing of ever-demanding coach Ken Hitchcock. With an interim coach, Dallas missed the playoffs after five straight division titles.

"We had hit our peak and were on the backslide of that hill, so many teams were catching us as we were going down," Modano said. "Eventually, you just hit a wall and everything just kind of hit rock bottom."

Modano's definitive highlight came three years before that.

It was triple overtime in Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup finals. Modano handled the puck right before it went to Brett Hull, who scored the title-clinching goal.

"Having that moment when we were on the ice scoring that goal and being next to each other seeing it go in, that's a vision in my mind that I will never forget," said Modano, who with a broken wrist assisted on both goals in that 2-1 win at Buffalo.

The Stars made it to the finals again in 2000, but were swept in the second round of the 2001 playoffs, and Hull left as a free agent. Then there was last season.

"Certainly with Hitch, there was a lot of pressure," Modano said. "Personally, he put a lot on me, which at that time of my career was probably a good thing. It helped me get to that level I wanted to get to. Now I just want to sustain that and have fun."

Modano hopes to raise the Stanley Cup again. Meanwhile, he will continue adding to his impressive numbers.

"When I was growing up, there was a limited supply of American guys to look up to who were superstars," said Chris Drury, Calgary's 26-year-old center. "Everyone in my era certainly looked up to him."

Only three American-born players -- Phil Housley, Joe Mullen and Jeremy Roenick -- have more career points than Modano, who had 1,046 (442 goals and 604 assists) after Tuesday night's 5-5 tie at Boston.

"He is an elite American. It doesn't matter what nationality or where he comes from -- he's an elite NHL player," said Colorado Coach Tony Granato, who played 13 years in the NHL after the 1988 Olympics on the U.S. hockey team. "His speed, his hands, his skating ability, his work ethic, his dynamic offensive creativity.

"There's only a handful of exciting players that are end-to-end type of players that can take people out of their seats, and he's one of them."

Modano was barely 18 when the Stars made the Michigan native the first pick in 1988. After four seasons, the team moved to Dallas.

"I felt like I had a clean slate coming down to Dallas," he said.

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