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American-made scorer

February 25, 2007|From the Associated Press

DALLAS — Mike Modano didn't make much of an initial impression on his junior hockey coaches. They weren't even sure the lanky teenager from Minnesota would make it at that level.

"He came walking in, about 6 foot 1 and weighed about 145 pounds, if he had about $15 worth of quarters in his pockets. He had braces and bleached blond hair," his former coach Brad Tippett said. "We looked at each other and said he's going to get killed."

The Prince Albert coaches drastically changed their opinion a few hours later when they saw the 16-year-old Modano skate.

"After about three minutes, we picked up our jaws and he was given the name 'Magic'," Tippett said, recalling that day in 1986.

Two years later, Modano was the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft. The Dallas Stars center is now in his 17th full season and closing in on the records for most goals and most points by a U.S.-born player.

"You think USA hockey, he's the guy," said second-year New Jersey left wing Zach Parise, a young American who grew up watching Modano.

Modano entered the weekend with 496 goals, six short of matching Hall of Famer and New York City native Joe Mullen for the most by an American-born player. He was 26 points shy of Phil Housley's 1,232.

"You don't think about when you first start to gather those kinds of numbers," Modano said. "But when you have the ability to play a long time and play with some great players, those things happen."

While playing all 1,215 games of his career with the same franchise, Modano has gotten this far without leading the league in goals or points. He's never had a 100-point season and only once scored at least 40 goals -- when he had 50 in 1993-94, the first season after the Minnesota North Stars moved south.

"He can't be that consistent and that good for so long without being dedicated," said teammate Philippe Boucher, a starter in last month's All-Star game in Dallas that Modano missed with an injury. "What he's going after just speaks volumes about the kind of player he is."

Modano helped the North Stars reach the Stanley Cup finals in 1991. He became the face of the franchise when it moved to Dallas, where his No. 9 jersey remains the club's runaway best seller and probably will never be worn by anyone else. He is the only player left that moved with the team from Minnesota.

"That part has been just as meaningful as anything, the ability to make this town work as a hockey town," Modano said.

The Stars won the Cup in 1999, when Modano played the championship series with a broken left wrist and assisted on both goals in the triple-overtime title-clinching game at Buffalo. They made it back to the finals in 2000 and have been to the playoffs in nine of 13 seasons since moving to Dallas.

"Numbers speak for themselves when you have the ability to play that long," Modano said. "The Stanley Cup was something. They can't say he was a great player but he never won."

Housley played in more games than any other NHL player -- 1,495 over 21 seasons -- without winning a Stanley Cup. He played in the finals only once, when the Washington Capitals were swept by Detroit in 1998.

Mullen was on two championship teams, the 1991 Pittsburgh Penguins and 1989 Calgary Flames.

With his championship, pending scoring records and likely several seasons left, Modano is easily considered one of the top American players ever in the NHL.

"If not No. 1, then in top three or four, up there with [Jeremy] Roenick, Pat LaFontaine, and guys like that," said Chris Chelios, the 45-year-old Detroit defenseman who is a Chicago native. "Joey Mullen was also a guy who was a big scorer as an American, who doesn't get a lot of credit."

Roenick, the No. 8 pick in the same draft with Modano, was third on both American scoring lists with 491 goals and 670 points in 1,235 games. But Roenick has averaged only about a goal every seven games since the start of the 2005-06 season.

While Mullen is No. 1 on the list for American goal-scorers, that is only 35th overall on the NHL list. Only about 15 percent of the league's current players were born in the United States.

"It tells you there's a lot of great players, a lot of great Canadians, a lot of great players in the world," Modano said. "Just to be in that category will be very meaningful, but still to look at it retrospective, there are a lot of great players."

Since the draft that included Modano and Roenick, there have been only two American-born players chosen No. 1 overall: defenseman Bryan Berard in 1995 and goalie Rick DiPietro in 2000.

Modano had a chance to leave the Stars for more lucrative contracts with Chicago or Boston in 2005, even when he was coming off the worst season of his career that preceded the NHL's lockout.

Something just wouldn't have seemed right if Modano was wearing another uniform.

"You paint a picture and Mike Modano, he's been the heart and soul of that organization," said Housley, who was on the 2002 U.S. Olympic team with Modano, a three-time Olympian.

Modano is in the second year of the five-year deal he signed to stay with the Stars. He had an impressive comeback last season with 77 points (27 goals, 50 assists) in 78 games.

Even though Modano hasn't been able to maintain that point-a-game pace this season (11 goals, 12 assists in 36 games) and missed 23 games plus the All-Star game with a groin injury, he remains a vital part of the Stars.

"He makes us a better team because he's a dynamic player," said Stars coach Dave Tippett, the brother of Modano's junior coach. "Other teams look at us differently when they are sitting in the dressing room and look at their board and they have Modano out there.... He has a presence on our team that the other team is aware of all the time. It gives your team more definition."

And more chances to score.

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