Fitting ceremony retires Modano's No. 9

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DALLAS -- It was as if a slice of Hollywood came to American Airlines Center on Saturday night, complete with a long, Victory Green carpet and glittering stars.

That's really the only way to send Mike Modano's No. 9 to the rafters, isn't it?

It was Modano, after all, who made hockey the thing to do in Dallas. It wasn't just Modano's speed, skill and good looks that made fans -- and the famous folks -- want to see the Stars as they became one of the best teams in hockey in the late 1990s. It was that he was willing to teach the game, too, to a group of football fans who weren't sure what to make of it. Modano was out in the public eye, signing autographs and talking up hockey, hoping to help grow the game in Dallas.

He did. And he won a Stanley Cup in the process, forever immortalizing that 1999 team in Dallas hockey history. That group -- 20 of them in all -- was on hand Saturday to see Modano's No. 9 hoisted to the roof. Derian Hatcher, the captain of that team, even brought the Stanley Cup out. But that team meant the most to Modano. Many of those players were his teammates for years, building the unit into one that managed to win crucial Game 7s on the way to the game's ultimate prize.

"The impact those guys made on this town and that team and on me, a lot of those guys pushed hard on me and made sure I showed up injured and hurt and played through it," Modano said. "They taught me a lot about winning."

Modano's first roommate in the NHL was there. So were some of his coaches and general managers. Former Stars owner Tom Hicks, who received a mixture of boos and cheers, was also there, and Modano made it a point to thank him. While the financial troubles of Hicks' company caused him to lose ownership of the Texas Rangers and Stars, he also spent the money needed to bring top players to Dallas and assemble that Cup team.

"We wouldn’t have won that Stanley Cup if it wasn’t for Tom Hicks," Modano said.

Former GM Bob Gainey credited Modano for selling the sport in Texas. And Modano's former teammates heaped him with praise for what he did on and off the ice.

It was a classy night that included a brief appearance by some of the biggest names in DFW sports -- retired Ranger Michael Young, Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, former Mavs star Rolando Blackman, former Cowboys quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.

Give Dan Stuchal, Stars vice president of business development, credit for putting together an event that showcased how big a star Modano is in this town and also allowed him to thank those who helped him along the way.

It was well done, and well deserved for Modano.

As the videos played throughout the arena, I was thinking how fortunate I was to have covered so many of his great moments. He was a rare superstar who never acted like one. He always enjoyed ribbing me about anything -- something I wrote, something I wore, something I said -- and he had no problem with me ribbing him back. That made chronicling his hockey exploits a lot more fun.

Fans were lucky to see Modano play here. And Modano was lucky, too. He became a star in a city that reveres its winners. Sports are a huge part of this community, and while hockey isn't football, Modano made it fun.

Now every fan who walks into American Airlines Center will see his No. 9 hanging there. That's as it should be.