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Monday, April 12, 2010

An amazing night, to say the least

Last Thursday night may have been one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. It was most likely Mike Modano’s last game in front of a home crowd as a Dallas Star. The 39-year-old has spent 17 years in this city, and has done more for the sport in the south than you could possibly imagine. He is the best U.S. born player of all time, holds virtually every record imaginable for the Stars’, is a Stanley Cup Champion and is quite possibly the greatest ambassador to hockey in this region of the country.

Bob Sturm from The Ticket put it well: “Think about it. We all feel like Dallas is the exception to the rule when it comes to the NHL in the sun belt. In many of the cities, it has only been an unqualified success in years where those teams win the Stanley Cup. But in Dallas, the Stars have generally been well supported and followed. I submit to you that is a result of the instant magnetic force that Mike Modano and some of his friends had on the city.”

I grew up watching Modano as a kid – so Thursday night was emotional. Call me a sucker for sports tears, but his last home game was so incredibly poetic you had to have been a robot to not choke up. About six minutes left in the third period the stadium TV screen showed him sitting on the bench with a caption just below it reading one of his many records as an NHL player. The fans began cheering, and then came the standing ovation. Cheers got louder and louder, as the applause was building on itself. Tim Cowlishaw from the Morning News describes this scene in great detail:

“Mike Modano looked up at the scoreboard and fought back the tears as he had done earlier in the night. This time he lost the battle. As the crowd continued to cheer in what was probably Modano's final game in Dallas, Modano bowed his head and put his gloves to his face. Players for both teams stood in the faceoff circle and tapped their sticks on the ice. The delay continued, and when Modano raised his head, tears were streaming down his cheeks as he lifted his glove to wave to the crowd.”

That was it. His final salute. The game was meaningless, the Stars and the Anaheim Ducks are not playoff-bound, so that was pretty much it – or so I thought.

A minute or so later Anaheim scores to go up 2-1 in the game, which was an incredible bummer. The arena went from an emotional high to almost complete (and somewhat awkward) silence, as if the oxygen was sucked out of the building in seconds. But then, with less than two minutes to play in regulation, after the long emotional delay just minutes prior, Modano’s line was back on the ice, and who else would score the tying goal other than the man himself. I couldn’t believe it. Even in my poor seats I knew it was #9 who scored when the puck went in the net, the arena absolutely erupted.

Time goes by and the game progresses to a shoot out (of course). We miss our first shot when Brad Richards fails to convert. Marty Turco holds strong and makes a save against Anaheim’s first shooter. Mike Modano’s up next, and with insane velocity is able to wrist a shot in over Anaheim’s goalie – banging the puck off the pipe and into the net. So Modano-esque. So brilliant. Turco, again, holds strong. Jere Lehtinen is the final Dallas shooter, a goal would mean a Stars’ victory and a perfect ending to this game, and to Mike, Marty and Jere’s careers as Stars. Lehtinen scores, Stars win!

I couldn’t believe it. I could not believe what I had witnessed. Again, the game was essentially meaningless, but so incredibly meaningful at the same time. Absolutely perfect – what a way to end the night, and such an important player’s career. I couldn’t have asked for anything else.

After the game I was talking with some folks about exactly that – how we could not imagine a better game, or a better evening, until someone walked into the restaurant we were at.


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