Posts Tagged ‘pro hockey

11
Apr
10

Where Did 20 Years Go?

Country singer Kenny Rogers once did a tune entitled “20 Years Ago,” a song  about the idea of going back to your hometown 20 years later and reminiscing about all the memories. (The older I get, the harder it is to stomach that tune.) When I was younger, I thought it would take forever to get to the point where you could look back 20 years in your life. I always wondered what it would be like when that time arrived. Now I know. Former Philadelphia Flyers president Jay Snyder gave Sports Illustrated in 1987 one of the most insightful quotes ever: “It’s amazing how fast the future shows up.”

Mike Modano must have had that on his mind Saturday night in what was probably his last game in the NHL, ironically in the same state where his career started 1989: Minnesota. The No. 1 overall draft pick of the Minnesota North Stars in 1988, Modano fought back his emotions several occasions during the game. At the end of the game, he was named the No. 1 star and pulled off a great PR move — coming out wearing his North Stars jersey with his name and number on the back. Modano returned to Minnesota playing against a robust franchise, unlike what he came to when drafted in 1988.

Going into the draft in ’88, the North Stars had the No. 1 pick courtesy of being the worst team in the NHL under first-year coach and hockey legend Herb Brooks. One year was all Herb got. His old friend, GM Lou Nanne, decided to step down from his position. The new GM, Jack Ferreira, didn’t retain Herb, prompting my mentor, Ron Woodey of the St. Paul Vulcans, the man who gave Herb his first head coaching opportunity with his team, to say, “If the Gunds (the owners of the North Stars) ran their other businesses the way they run the North Stars, they’d be broke.” It was a PR disaster.

Enter Modano. Having the No. 1 pick in the draft generated some excitement, but none of the players available were tabbed to be the next franchise-maker like Mario Lemieux. Modano had left suburban Detroit (Livonia, Mich.) to play major junior hockey in Prince Albert, Sask. — and you thought Minnesota was cold in December? — and became an offensive force for the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL. However, there was some debate over whether the guy rated No. 2, Trevor Linden, wasn’t the guy to take. A natural leader and mature beyond his years, Linden had won everywhere he’d been to that point — two Memorial Cup championships with his junior team, the Medicine Hat Tigers, and a gold medal for Canada in the world junior tournament.  And he turned out to be a good one: He was named captain of the Vancouver Canucks by the time he was 21, played 19 years in the NHL, and had his number retired by the Canucks in 2008. A couple other guys did well, too. The first round included another productive American player in Jeremy Roenick (8th overall), Michigan State and St. Louis Blues star Rod Brind’Amour, and the “Finnish Flash,” Teemu Selanne, whose record for goals by a rookie (76) may never be matched.

In the end, Modano became the best American forward ever and recorded a milestone few professional athletes achive — he played his entire career with the same team. If he gets a case of Brett Favre-itis and decides to play again next year, I’m sure some NHL would find a spot for him. If not, he’s done enough to justify the ovations Minnesota hockey fans gave him at the Xcel Energy Center.