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February 12, 2008

Mike Modano

DAVE FISCHER: Good day, ladies and gentlemen, thanks for joining us here in our second of a series of conference calls this week in the buildup to Hockey Weekend Across America. I am Dave Fischer, the director of media and public relations at USA Hockey, and it's a pleasure to have Mike Modano with us today. In just a moment we'll get to Mike.
I think you all know Hockey Weekend Across America is a new nationwide initiative that USA Hockey is leading the hockey community through. It begins on Friday, this Friday, runs through Sunday. We have developed themes for each of the three days: Friday, wear your favorite jersey to school; Saturday, bring a friend to the rink day; Sunday, celebrate local hockey heroes day.
Simply the objective is really twofold: To celebrate the game and celebrate all those involved at all levels, and also to expose the games to additional audiences so we can attract more coaches, players, officials, and volunteers to the sport.
Really the hockey community has really taken the initiative and run with it. I know people have expanded it to go throughout the course of the week. In Philadelphia, the mayor yesterday declared it hockey week across Philadelphia. There are similar initiatives happening all over the country, and we have also told people to be flexible. I know some schools are closed on Friday because of Presidents' Day weekend, so we told people to have their kids wear the jerseys to school on Wednesday. So there's a lot of creativity going on in the community with the initiative, and we're certainly very pleased to see that.
When you talk about the greatest American players of all-time, certainly Mike Modano rolls right of the tip of the tongue. He scored the game-winning goal last night for the Dallas Stars against Phoenix. His team will host the Detroit Red Wings as part of Hockey Weekend Across America.
Coming up this Sunday, the NHL Game of the Week on NBC. I think you all know he's a three-time Olympian, and this season became the all-time American-born points leader in National Hockey League history. His presence has played a big part of the growth in the sport down in the Dallas Fort Worth area.
In 1993 they had zero high school teams in that area, today they have 68. Rinks, there were two in 1993; today there are 22. So we've seen tremendous growth in that area, and many thanks to Mike and the Dallas Stars' organization for efforts and growing the game in that part of the country.
I think when you talk about Mike Modano, not only is he a terrific hockey play but a terrific person as well. A lot of his work you've seen though the Mike Modano Foundation to raise awareness and provide funding for organizations, to offer education and assistance to children and families who suffer from the devastation of abuse. Not only has he worked in that capacity, but in many other capacities to help people better themselves in life.
Through testament when you talk about roll models we can look to in hockey in America, Mike Modano right at the top of the list. I've asked Mike just to touch on a couple things in his opening comments, some of his youth hockey experiences and people he remembers and things, special moments in his youth hockey history, and also to touch a little bit on his thoughts on how hockey has developed in the U.S. over the course of his lifetime.
Without further ado, it's my pleasure to turn it over to Mike Modano.
MIKE MODANO: Thanks, Dave. Well, first of all, I want to thank everybody for calling in and helping out with this and helping promote Hockey Day in America next week. Like everybody that's probably called in today or in the past, players have probably touched on how valuable their youth experiences were and growing up and having the opportunity to play a kid's game at a professional level and having the opportunity to make a living from it.
Growing up in Detroit, I was very fortunate to be a northerner, a Midwesterner, where hockey was right up there in the top two or three sports in the country. So, you know, certainly enjoyed the game from the moment I stepped on it. I had a lot of great people and a lot of great friends and team mates and players and coaches and whatnot who helped with that development over time in the years that I've played.
Being a kid and growing up in Detroit, obviously you're very familiar with the Red Wings, the Toronto Maple Leafs. My dad being from Boston, we quickly became Bruins fans as well, too. So, you know, I've been blessed and very fortunate to be around the game for such a period of time. Very thankful for my youth hockey experiences, all the traveling and the coaches who took time out to help develop us and put their time and effort into growing the sport as well.
I think it's not more -- never been more evident than the expansion in the National Hockey League in the cities in the country we never thought hockey could exist, or flourish as much as it has in the Florida region and California and Texas, to name a couple.
Being a part of that whole transition from Minneapolis to Dallas has been quite rewarding to see the growth of the game. And the last couple years having kids actually born from Dallas, drafted from the Stars, or moved on to college scholarships or the junior leagues in Canada and to further their development as well.
It has expanded without a doubt here in Texas, and I think if you asked around it's probably been the most -- the biggest franchise move and the most popular one that has happened in the league, the one that has taken off and, you know, helped really develop hockey in a southern mentality.
With that, I'll guess I'll open it up to questions.

Q. Couple questions. First of all, going back to your decision many, many years ago when you had to decide the best rout to take, can you just talk about what you were facing then compared to now when kids have so many more options that you had when you were playing?
MIKE MODANO: Yeah, I mean, there basically was only two: either pack up and go to Canada, or wait out until you're about 17 and kind of see what's available as far as colleges and scholarships. We just had the two at the time.
Going back, I mean, some of the NCA rules were that you couldn't be recruited until you were 17. At the time, I was just 15, so, you know, having to take that gamble of either sticking it out in Detroit and waiting a couple years and see how college went, or making that decision to go to Canada and see what's available there and kind of see where I stood as a player, if that was the route I was going to take or make another life decision or choice.
It was tough, but like I said, it was only the two decisions to be made.

Q. I just wanted to ask a little bit about your team now. Seems like almost since Brett and Les took over the Stars have had almost sort of a different perspective. In particular as of late you guys have been really, really hot. What I'm struck by is how many times you've given up the first goal and still won. As you know, Mike, in the game today, usually when you fall behind early it's hard to win the game. Talk about why the Dallas Stars are flying under the radar and no one's paying attention but they've been good all year?
MIKE MODANO: It's kind of always been the case down here in Texas. We're kind of like the stepchild down here. You love them but they're really not yours. That's kind of always how we felt. So we always kind of flew under the radar and let the hockey speak for itself and not moaning and groaning about winning the popularity contest.
But like you said, we lead the league in allowing first period goals, but we found ways to come back. A lot has to do with the power-play. More times than not it's dug us out of holes. It won our game last night for us.
But like I said, it's always been the case down here. We've never been talked about and covered much, so that's just the way it is down here. Obviously they're still talking about football on the radio and preparing for spring training and baseball. I guess until we make some noise this spring it's always going to be the case.

Q. I was looking, one component of Hockey Weekend Across America takes place in your home state of Michigan where it's going to be the 10th annual Hockey Day in Michigan. Some really, really interesting events. One of the things I was thinking about was the 1980 Olympic victory, the 1960 Olympic victory. Probably the next biggest accomplishment in American hockey would be the World Cup of '96. Talk about the growth of hockey and how maybe that event that you participated in has spurred the growth hockey. We've got 24 Michiganers in the NHL now.
MIKE MODANO: Obviously those two experiences that USA had in the Olympics in '60 and '80 come to the forefront when you talk about international hockey and the Olympics. Obviously the '96 World Cup is something that they still talk about, the hockey that was played.
You know, losing that first game in Philadelphia and then having to go to Montreal to win two was really, you know, something that was -- odds were against us obviously having to go there and having to win in Canada and Montreal.
But, yeah, that right there was probably a real springboard for the sport and for Americans. Like I said, just the location of these teams now, the development of kids at an early age, you're hitting all areas of the United States. With that you're increasing your odds and the popularity of the game.
Like you said, now you have more and more kids playing and, you know, kids from Texas being drafted now and Arizona, and stuff like that. International play has always been something that we've tried to really improve on and tried to be recognized with other top countries in the world.

Q. If you could, is there a single moment -- I know you go all the way back to the '88 junior team -- is there a single most proud moment when you were wearing the Team USA sweater?
MIKE MODANO: Like we just talked about, I think World Cup was one of them. The experience in Salt Lake City with Herb Brooks and that series of games that we had with Russia and Canada with the finals. I mean, those two moments were ones that really stand out.
But just having Herb there on the bench and having him being part of that whole experience and being in the finals, yeah, it's really tough to match that type of atmosphere that was going on there.

Q. As part of this Hockey Weekend Across America and Hockey Day in Michigan, one of the goals is to expose new players to hockey and kind of grow the game. I wanted to see if you remember how exactly got started playing, and did you love the game right away?
MIKE MODANO: Well, my dad was a big fan. He didn't play much, but like I said, he was from Boston and obviously grew up a big Bruins fan. I mean, moved his way to Detroit. So at one point he just took me skating one day. We went to the local rink and got some skates and went skating when I was about six years old. I loved it. It was a real kind of release for me. Yeah, I was a bit hyper as a kid, and at times uncontrollable. It seems that it was a great release physically. I just wanted to skate all day and get worn out.
You know, at some point I just said, hey, you know, let's go get some gear and get involved and see what happens, get into a league and go from there. It just was something that I felt natural doing and very comfortable. Just very lucky that one day I picked up a pair of skates and started skating and got so attracted to the game.

Q. Did you play other sports when you were growing up?
MIKE MODANO: Yeah. I was big into football and baseball obviously. In high school played a lot of tennis. Actually was really contemplating what to do with tennis. I loved playing. But that summer we kind of thought about what I was going to do, and, you know, after we got a couple calls from Canada and a couple teams up there in the league said, you know, this could be something that really, you know, be exciting for me, a new challenge, just to see where it went.

Q. I was interested to hear that you were talking about the 2002 Olympic team as one of your better memories. Was that loss, given how well you played in front of the home fans in the Gold Medal game, was that something that took some time to get over for you, or how did you reflect on that side of things?
MIKE MODANO: Yeah, certainly it was tough to end that way and to lose at home in front of everybody, to have Herb there and some of the guys that hadn't been back to play in the Olympics since. We just knew that sometimes your window of opportunity is very small and you'd love to take advantage of the opportunity if you're there.
So, yeah, it was tough. I mean, but you're in the middle of the season and you have to day to get back to your team and start playing again. I mean, it's not that you didn't have -- no rest for the weary. You have to get back and start playing.
But, yeah, when we still see -- I see Chris and guys that were on the team we still, at times, refer back to that game and wonder what we could have done to change the outcome.

Q. I was wondering as well, because you had talked about or it was mentioned, the success hockey has had in Dallas. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on why that market might have taken to hockey?
MIKE MODANO: Well, I think the size of the city. I think, you know, it really is one of the top five or six major sports towns in the country. I think people just took to the speed of the game and the grace and skill of it, the fighting and the hitting, you know, all this done with such great speed.
You know, obviously the product on the ice was very consistent. We had great runs there throughout the '90s, and obviously winning helps an awful lot. But there's tons of minor hockey teams down here spread out all over Texas, and a lot farm teams down here. Now we have up to twenty high school teams playing in the Metroplex, so the growth has been great.

Q. Just finally, there's a lot of the Canadians obviously who would like to see more NHL teams up here. When you say that, the common opinion sometime is that the U.S. Southern expansion hasn't worked. I imagine you have a different take on that. What's your take on the NHL's expansion in general?
MIKE MODANO: For the most part I think it's been tough. Some cities I think have found it difficult to maintain a great fan base. With the Lightning winning a couple years ago, that certainly helped that area of the state and the country. But Nashville, Florida, you know, Phoenix, there's been areas where it could be better. You know, time will tell with that.
Then there's other cities that are dying to get teams, like Seattle or Las Vegas or Kansas City, which would definitely be great for us who are out west a lot and in the Pacific Division.
But I think our standard was set so high and our bar is pretty high here in Texas that it's tough to compete with that.

Q. I want to talk about your career a little bit. During the off-season, there's a lot of talk about the Stars needing to go and get some more scoring help. It didn't really happen. This time of year your team is, I think, tied for third overall in goals and you're in first place, which qualifies as a prize to a lot of people. I'm just wondering if both of those things qualifies as a prize to you right now?
MIKE MODANO: A little bit, yeah. That was a concern of ours going into the season. Were we going to have enough depth to maintain some scoring throughout the course of the season and compete with some of the other high-end teams? But it's been really kind of -- I think some of us have been surprised by it. Our power-play has been, for the most part, one of top five or six power-plays in the league.
So we've had some games where we've kind of got five or six or seven goals a game, which has always been pretty rare for our team, for a team that's always thrived upon as a defensive-oriented team and defending first and checking and then creating offense from that.
It's been a really blessing in disguise, but that's something that, as the season goes on and winds down, it'll be even more important for us to be successful and to win in the playoffs. That was something that kind of bit us last year in the first round with Vancouver. If we had a goal or two more then we possibly could have moved on.

Q. I'm wondering too, because this team is essentially the same team that started the season. Usually it's happened in the past where a team changes coaches there might be an impact that you see visibly. In this case, the changes at the top, Brett and Les haven't really made any personnel changes, and yet the team is completely different than it was at the beginning of year. How do you explain that?
MIKE MODANO: Well, there had been a handful of injuries to our key guys. Boucher and Zubov and Lehtinen have been out for a real big chunk of the season. Guys were asked to really come in and play well for us.
Hagman has had a real break out year, and the Ribeiro and Morrow line, they're three guys into 20 goals already, and we'll probably get to maybe five or six or seven guys that can get to twenty goals.
Right now the scoring has been spread out, but like I said, some guys have really stepped up and really kind of grown with some responsibility of filling those guys' rolls when they were injured. That is a bright spot. It's kind of something that's been really refreshing for us to have some of the young guys play so well.

Q. I wanted to ask you to talk about the commitment from your parents when you were a kid and the sacrifices they had to make to help further your hockey playing, what they had to go through to help you play as a kid.
MIKE MODANO: Yeah, I mean, that's something that you really can't thank them enough. You do certainly appreciate what they did and went through as you get older. Yeah, the 5:00 a.m. 6:00 a.m. practices, traveling to Toronto probably every other weekend and Montreal every other weekend and out east to Boston and New York and Chicago.
We put tons of miles on the vans and stuff, and you know -- but they seemed to always love it and do whatever that parents would do to make their kids happy and enjoy what they're doing. They were always just about having fun and enjoying it and getting the most out of your time when you do it.
They did push you hard, but, again, in the back of their mind they just wanted you to enjoy what you were doing. If you didn't want to do it, you didn't have to. But I certainly enjoyed it, and now I don't tell them -- I try to tell them as much as I can what -- the time they put in to help me out, what it meant.

Q. You were talking about the option of going up to Canada, which you did, and you played for Prince Albert. I was wondering, what the reaction was that year, your second year up there, where you led Prince Albert in scoring and finished in the top ten. Was there any surprise or shock that an American would do so well? And could you tell us where your dad was from in the Boston area?
MIKE MODANO: Well, the second part with my dad, he was from Hyde Park in Boston.

Q. I know it well.
MIKE MODANO: We still have a lot of family back there still.
Well, I guess back in that day, being an American going Canada, they looked down on that. It was tough. Kids went out of their way to make it difficult for you when you were playing against them. Even guys on your own team were like, Why are we opening up a spot for an American when we have plenty of players up in Canada that do that same deal, or are just as good a player?
So there was a lot of pressure to come in there and do well. I think that's what kind of motivated me to go in there and kind of be a consistent guy and do things well and kind of make a name for yourself and open people's eyes.
Probably after that first year and into the second, you know, I think people kind of -- I grew on them a little bit. The town became really very open and very hospitable in many ways and making life very easy for me there. Kids in school and high school and the guys I played with really became great friends and still are to this day, so...
But, yeah, you did have to fight some inner battles up there.

Q. Ron Wilson hit 500 wins this week, and obviously you played for him in International. I wanted to get your thought on him as a coach, what he's sort of meant for the USA in terms of competition?
MIKE MODANO: It was a lot of fun playing for him. He was a very loose guy and a carefree guy. Tried to make light of everything, which was a breath of fresh air compared to the majority of the coaches that we had or played against or knew.
You know, plus he loves the skill of the game and loves the talent side of it, so that was, I guess, like I said, that was just as refreshing, too. I just remember - and we still talk and keep in touch - he was just a lot of fun to be around. Sarcastic to a point in a humorous way.

Q. It's still a ways away from Vancouver in 2010, but can you talk about what needs to be done for the United States to kind of get over that hump and bridge the gap a little bit?
MIKE MODANO: Well, you know, right now they have a great core of kids growing up that are going to be a ripe age in 2010. They're going to have their hands full selecting that team, which would be something refreshing.
When you have a tough way of selecting kids because you have so many and so much talent, that's a great thing to have and a great problem to have. I think they'll be fine.
I think those kids that came in the last year or two are going to get some years under their belt and develop and adjust to the speed and size and strength of the guys. Could very well be a really strong team in 2010. Canada's guys are getting a little older and we're all getting older, so that core that was part of Salt Lake could be moved on, and an exciting new batch of guys coming in.
DAVE FISCHER: Thanks for calling in ladies and gentlemen.

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