Mike Modano mulling a comeback, says he's feeling Minnesota
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Considering the number of Minnesota North Stars t-shirts, hoodies and jerseys one sees on the streets and in the rinks of the State of Hockey, one might think the first NHL team from around these parts didn't really pull up stakes and head way, way down I-35 for a new home in Dallas nearly 20 years ago.
But with renewed interest in the NHL in Minnesota thanks to the signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on July 4, long-time fans aren't the only one feeling nostalgic for the old green and gold, apparently.
Just a few minutes after the Parise and Suter news hit the Twitterverse on the morning of Independence Day, a familiar Twitter account blasted out a message that, combined with some hints of a comeback, has the hockey world buzzing this week.
"Can I come back and play in Minnesota too? #northstars" was the message sent by @9modano. For those of you who missed the waning years of the North Stars in Bloomington, that's the Twitter account of Mike Modano, the first overall pick in the 1988 NHL draft, and the team's last true superstar in Minnesota. He followed that Tweet by naming his old Minnesota hangouts - J.D. Hoyt's, the Loon, Manny's and Lord Fletchers, and pining for a return to the "good old days."
Modano, 42, retired at the end of the 2010-11 season after an abbreviated one-year stint with the Detroit Red Wings. Prior to that, he'd spent his entire career with the North Stars and then the Dallas Stars, winning a Stanley Cup in Texas in 1999. After leaving the Wings (his lone season was cut short by a cut wrist), he signed a one-day contract with Dallas, officially retiring as a Star, and was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame just a few weeks ago.
But, much like another prominent 40-something sports figure that came from the South to Minnesota after his career was seemingly over, Modano's itch to play again has apparently been re-ignited in recent weeks, and he told 1500ESPN.com on Wednesday that his Tweet about
coming back to play in Minnesota wasn't completely in jest.
"I was kind of kidding, and kind of not," Modano said, while attending a celebrity golf event in Lake Tahoe.
He's clearly gotten the itch to play again, and an exciting young team, in the community where it all started for him professionally, has clearly caught his eye. On Wednesday, Modano was saying all of the right things about the Minnesota hockey community.
"Hockey is part of the fabric and the makeup of Minnesota, and that part of the country," Modano said. "The fans, the kids, everybody's way of life, in some form, involves hockey."
Modano left Minnesota along with the Stars in 1993, and has made a comfortable home for himself in Dallas. He's married to singer and former Playboy model Willa Ford, and is working in the front office for the Allen Americans, a lower-rung minor league hockey team in suburban Dallas, affiliated with the Stars. Still he admitted a significant soft spot for his days with the North Stars, and a pang of regret.
"We all feel like we wish it would've worked in Minnesota and we would've stayed there," he said. "I think the North Stars have still lived on in a lot of minds and hearts in Minnesota and around the league. There are people who still to this day miss it. It's great to see how it's flourished back and the fans have gotten back on board with it. They have a beautiful arena and a great fan base again, the way we hoped it would be with us."
And at 42, Modano said he welcomes the comparisons to Brett Favre and his foray into the Minnesota sports scene, noting that in his first season with the Vikings, Favre led the team to within one win of the Super Bowl, and says they probably would've gotten that win, "if not
for the Saints and their bounties."
The great unknown is the NHL market for a 42-year-old forward - even one as renowned as Modano. Officials from the Wild won't comment publicly about their level of interest in this or any other free agent. Two years ago, when Modano left Dallas, it was widely presumed that the Wild were one of his teams under consideration, before he signed the one-year deal in Detroit, his hometown. The Wild already have more than 15 forwards signed to NHL-level contracts, meaning that finding a spot for another - even a big name - would be a challenge. But the local fan interest in Modano, especially among those nostalgic for the days of the Met Center and the Norris Division rivalries, is unquestioned.
In the meantime step one in any true comeback will be getting into playing shape.
"I haven't skated too much. It's off and on," Modano said. "I continue to work out just to keep healthy and in shape. But I haven't skated much, so that would obviously be the next step."
There are plenty of rinks available for training in Minnesota. We should know soon whether any local teams are hiring.