Before this NHL season there were not many analysts who would have pegged the Dallas Stars for a 2-0 start, winning road games against the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders. However, two overtime victories later, the Stars are sitting perched at No. 3 in ESPN’s NHL power rankings and are back in Dallas awaiting their home opener at American Airlines Center on Thursday.
The opener will be bittersweet for a lot of Dallas fans though as the Stars face the Detroit Red Wings and their former teammate, Mike Modano.
Amid questions of possible retirement last season, the season finale at the American Airlines Center last year was an emotional one. With Modano’s contract expiring at the end of the 2010 season and the power forward turning 40 this year, many felt this last home contest against the Anaheim Ducks would be the last time fans would see “Mikey Mo” skate in Dallas.
On that night, Modano assisted on the Stars first goal, scored the tying goal, and was awarded the first star for the win over the Ducks. At one point during the third, he looked up at the scoreboard and was no longer able to fight back the tears. Players paused and tapped their sticks on the ground, Modano waved to the crowd and there were more than a few tears that night.
As the free agency period started this summer, it became clear that Modano wasn’t finished. He had been quoted earlier in the season as saying his father was trying to convince him to keep playing.
“It certainly felt like the end,” Modano said at one point. “But I might come down with Favre-itis.”
Modano had even asked his parents not to come for the final game in Dallas, so as to leave the door open for his career to continue. And so, Thursday night, Stars fans will once again see their beloved Modano grace the ice, only this time he will be wearing red and suiting up for one of the NHL’s most hated franchises.
Years of history and victories make the Red Wings an easy team to despise. Thus far, Modano has shown he deserves to still be playing the game. He was the first to score in the Red Wings season opener against Anaheim, ironically the team he saw last in Dallas.
Rumor has it there will be a tribute to Modano during the first intermission tonight, but when the puck drops, it is uncertain how the sold-out crowd will react. Certainly there is a lot of respect for a guy who sits atop the leaderboard for most of the Dallas Stars history.
Modano played in Dallas for 16 years, led them to a Stanley Cup in 1999 and was an ambassador for the sport deep in the heart of football country. But on Thursday night, he is the opponent, the enemy. Modano has said he expects a lot of mixed emotions – cheers and boos as he skates onto the ice.
As the Stars fight to get another win against a tough rival, there is one thing for certain – tonight will be memorable.