TORONTO - Mike Modano was all ready to play for coach Pat Burns and the Hull Olympiques. Only one problem: One summer night in 1986, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team called him to say they were drafting Joe Suk instead.
A week later, the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League came knocking. While Suk played for Cenral Hockey League's Macon Whoopee and ECHL's Louisville Riverfrogs, Modano went to northern Saskatchewan to take a cold but strong path to the NHL and eventually the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"A city of 23,000 and minus-40 degrees for eight months out of the year was something that I'd never been exposed to," said Modano, who grew up suburban Detroit. "I didn't care where Prince Albert was. I was going to go play and have fun.
"Good thing I was 15 not knowing anything about Prince Albert, pretty naive of that town."
Modano grew into a blue-chip prospect in Prince Albert, playing for Rick Wilson and Peter Anholt. He had 47 goals and 80 assists in his draft year when he went first overall to the Minnesota North Stars and finished with 294 points in 176 WHL games.
"It was a great league, great preparation for the next step for the NHL," Modano said. "Don't regret a minute of my decision to go up there. Certainly was a big part of my life at that time."
Getting passed over by Hull was one of very few bumps in the road for Modano, who grew into a six-foot-three golden boy with the look of a movie star and the skill of a Hockey Hall of Famer. He holds the record for most goals (561) and points (1,374) by an American-born player, won the World Cup of Hockey in 1996 and then the Stanley Cup in 1999 with the Dallas Stars.
Modano considers his longevity — 1,499 games over 21 seasons — a major reason why he's going into the Hall of Fame Monday as part of the class of 2014.
"I was just lucky enough to play a long time, accumulated some decent stats to get recognized, and being American I think it had a little bit to do with it," Modano said Friday. "Hopefully I had some impact on the game in the U.S. and put some good years together, strung some years together that put me in a position to maybe be talked about."
When his fellow inductees talk about Modano, they rave. During a fan forum Saturday, Modano, Peter Forsberg, Dominik Hasek, Rob Blake and Mike Modano poked plenty of fun at each other.
Modano seemed exempt from the chirping.
"I'd like to say something bad about him," Forsberg said. "I'd like to come up with a bad story about him. It's hard. It's only good things. Obviously he was an unbelievable player."
Referee Bill McCreary, who will also be inducted Monday, called Modano the "ultimate leader" but also noted that he "he passed (the puck) so damn hard his teammates couldn't receive it."
Maybe that had something to do with his lifetime practice habits. Modano said youth coaches always had him skating with the puck, something he continued into the NHL that drove coaches Bob Gainey and Ken Hitchcock crazy when they wanted to bag-skate their team.
But it paid off. Hasek said he always had to be aware of Modano on the ice and marvelled at his speed.
"I always thought there was speed and then there was speed with the puck," Modano said. "I always thought if a guy can go a high speed with the puck, that made him even more dangerous than a guy without the puck."
When Modano reached top speed, that's when teammates and opponents noticed his trademark look.
"We used to joke on the bench, he's probably one of the only players that ever played that his jersey kind of blew in the wind when he skated," Blake said. "That's how smooth and how effortless he looked."
It was by design.
"I told my trainer I didn't like the sleeves tight on the jersey, so I was like, 'Bump me up a size on the jersey,' and that whole trademark kind of came about," Modano said.
From the start of his junior-hockey career, Modano played in only four places: Prince Albert, Minnesota, Dallas and Detroit, where he went home to join the Red Wings for his final season.
Modano's mother made ice in the family's backyard in Michigan when he was growing up and he played nonstop. But Prince Albert, the small city 90 minutes north of Saskatoon, was the place that gave him a taste of hockey as a way of life.
"The passion and the excitement that the Canadians had for the game of hockey I would've never been exposed to in Detroit as much as I was in Prince Albert," Modano said. "It allowed me to have a growth, a love for the game, while I was up there playing."
With the North Stars, Modano said he played in front of fans who were "strong and loyal and love the game." Ownership and arena issues led the franchise to move to Dallas in 1993.
Modano, already established as the face of the franchise by that point, moved, too. It was a major adjustment.
"We knew we had to win a whole new fan base over," Modano said. "I think our sales pitch was to try to get them to Reunion (Arena), get them in person. Hockey's a great sell in person to see the type of game that's played. We knew if we got them in the building we'd get them hooked."
Winning was a nice hook. Led by Modano, the Stars made the playoffs seven of their first eight years in Dallas.
In 1999 with Brett Hull, Joe Nieuwendyk, Derian Hatcher and Eddie Belfour on board, the Stars beat Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres to lift the Stanley Cup.
Modano is now an executive advisor and alternate governor in Dallas, where then-Sabres coach Lindy Ruff is now working. Hull's infamous triple-overtime Cup winning goal, which he scored with his skate in the crease, doesn't come up much.
"I just let history be history," Modano said. "I don't have to remind him. I think every time he looks at me in the locker-room or sees me in the offices he kind of gets a little twinge in his gut."
Modano said the Stars got a break and "changed the rules on that situation. There was a little grey area, but we came out ahead on that one." He won't apologize for the Cup ring and certainly not for helping hockey thrive in a nontraditional market in Dallas.
"(Hockey in Texas) was a whole new thing," Modano said. "It turned out far better than we ever imagined."
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