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Modano's career one for the ages

The No. 1 pick of the 1988 Entry Draft, No. 1 on the list of all-time U.S.-born scorers, and arguably No. 1 in the hearts of Dallas Stars fans, Mike Modano is used to being at the forefront.

Modano, who turns 40 on June 7, is at a crossroads in a remarkable career filled with impressive accomplishments and seemingly not much left to do. After 21 seasons, all with the same organization, Modano is contemplating retirement.

"It's really hard. I'm really kind of on the fence right now," Modano said a week after the end of the regular season and the second-straight season the Stars missed the playoffs. "It's tough. And then you watch some of the playoffs, watch some of those games and it's like those are the things that you miss."

If history shows that Modano's 1,633rd game (regular season and playoffs) was indeed on April 10, 2010, it is the sport that will sorely miss his presence.

The Minnesota North Stars selected Modano June 11, 1988 at the draft at the Montreal Forum. Modano, from Livonia, Mich., was only 19-years-old and headed to a franchise that had finished 19-48-13 the previous season, with a goal differential of minus-107. Times were tough in Bloomington, Minn.

"It was a great feeling to go No. 1, but then all of a sudden you realize, man, you're going to the worst team in the league," Modano said. "You have to go in there and make the fans excited, that there's some sort of future they're going to have and the team's going to have.

"Once we started and got going I felt it could be accomplished, we can do it."

Modano was an instant success in hockey-mad Minnesota, posting 29 goals and 75 points in 80 games as a rookie. The North Stars improved by 19 points and made the playoffs.

Minnesota qualified for the postseason in each of Modano's first three seasons, even reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 1991 before losing in six games to the Mario Lemieux-led Pittsburgh Penguins.

Three trips to the playoffs resulted in just three series wins, and then the North Stars took a step back and failed to qualify for the 1993 postseason.

"Being in Minnesota, people love hockey, but obviously they love a competitive team," Modano said. "We just underperformed."

The biggest challenge of Modano's burgeoning career soon was in front of him. The team relocated to Dallas on June 9, 1993, and Modano was asked to help lead the charge of making the NHL relevant in Texas, a state where football is king.

The Texas sports landscape had been dotted with the occasional minor-league hockey team, but this was a full-fledged dive into the state's pro sports culture.

"Once I got down here, then having our first game, it was like this could be really something unique and special down here," Modano said.

In hindsight, things have worked out more than just fine. Modano grew into one of the NHL's most explosive scorers, the Stars moved into a new state-of-the-art arena, and deep runs into the playoffs in front of sold-out buildings became commonplace. Dallas reached the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons, winning the title in 1999.

Modano now is the franchise's last remaining link to the North Stars.

In 1,459 career regular-season games, he has 557 goals and 802 assists for 1,359 points, all team records. In 2009-10, Modano had 14 goals and 30 points in 59 games, but was slowed by a rib injury and an appendectomy. He was ninth in team scoring and passed over for the U.S. team at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"The pressure to kind of be the main guy ... is far gone," Modano said. "So you just try to be a competitive guy, a little piece of the puzzle now, and help contribute in any way you can."

"Once I got down here, then having our first game, it was like this could be really something unique and special down here." -- Mike Modano

Should the end of the road be in front of Modano, he leaves the NHL as the 23rd all-time leader in points, 24th in goals and 29th in assists. He also is the franchise leader in almost every statistical category you can think of.

Modano's career numbers and accomplishments are extraordinary. He'll be remembered for much more than points, however, establishing himself as a leader for more than two decades and becoming the face of a franchise in two different cities.

"Starting with one team and ending with one team, being involved in a lot of the changes, a lot of the way the game has changed here in Dallas, I felt I never wanted to leave," he said.

Modano hasn't done so yet -- at least not officially.

Contact Rocky Bonanno at rbonanno@nhl.com

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