It was never just about the numbers for Mike Modano
Posted: Monday March 19, 2007 11:59AM; Updated: Monday March 19, 2007 12:07PM
Mike Modano's two-goal effort Saturday night in Nashville made him the NHL's all-time goal-scorer among American-born players. His second tally of the game surpassed Joe Mullen's mark of 502 and made Modano just the 14th player to net 500 goals for the same franchise -- a point of pride for Modano and something that may never happen again, given the league's penchant for player movement.
To Modano, though, the numbers weren't a driving force. Earlier last week, when he became the 39th player in league history to reach the 500-goal plateau, the native of Westland, Mich., wryly noted that had he been born 10 miles northeast of his Detroit suburb home -- in other words, across the border in Canada -- no one would be paying attention. Instead, his numbers stand out due to his country of origin.
Try as he might, Modano couldn't escape the added scrutiny leading up to his passing of Mullen. I chatted with him before the Nashville game and asked him what it was like to constantly be asked to put himself in historical context, while at the same time living the moment.
"It is a bit surreal," Modano conceded. "I've tried to enjoy the process and I spoke to Joe about the significance of it all, but still, numbers are not why you get into the game. As a kid, you just want to make the NHL. So, if anything, having to stop and think about all the goals, it makes me realize how fast it all goes by. I mean, I've played with just about everyone who has come through here (the Stars' organization) over the years, so that means an awful lot of guys had a hand in all this."
That's also a healthy dose of perspective from one of the most highly touted Americans to enter the league. As such, everyone always seemed to be paying attention to what Modano did and didn't do, both on and off the ice.
As he was growing up, Modano paid attention to other high-profile American players. "Playing with Phil Housley" -- whose 1,232 points is the most ever by an American and a total Modano now trails by a mere 15 -- "at U.S. National Team camps and having Neal (Broten) in Minnesota when I broke in had a tremendous effect on me."
And it wasn't just those icons of U.S. hockey, either. Modano admitted that as a kid, his heroes were local Michigan natives Pat LaFontaine and Jimmy Carson -- guys who burst on the NHL as teenagers. He even followed their precedent and played junior hockey in Canada, although he opted for the WHL whereas the others left Michigan to play in the QMJHL.
All three players became first-round picks, the Minnesota North Stars selecting Modano with the first overall pick in the 1988 draft. Now, after all these years and all those goals, Modano stands as the most prolific of them all. It has been a journey; one that he knows is near the end.
"I'm healthy now and I sure appreciate everything surrounding the game more now than when I was younger," he said.
Modano graciously obliged and, in the process, proved the power of a simple gesture -- one that was bigger for those young players than the all-time accomplishment Modano would author later that evening.
In that fleeting chance encounter, it wasn't about the numbers at all.