DALLAS -- Karen Modano, tissue in hand, couldn't take it anymore. After watching her 41-year-old son spend 20 minutes wiping tears from his eyes on stage at his retirement news conference Friday, she did what she's done since he was born: She gave him a hug and a kiss.
"It went by so fast," Karen Modano said of Mike's hockey career. "It's been a mom's dream to have a son like that. Everybody loves him. I've never had anybody say anything bad about him. He's so sweet. I just love him."
Modano thanked his parents as a finale to his remarks on Friday, his voice breaking.
Thanks for your love and support," Modano said. "Thanks for the sacrifices you made to give me a life in hockey."
And they were sacrifices. There was one main rink near Modano's home in Michigan and the only free ice time was 6:30 a.m. each day. So Mike Sr. or Karen would get up and make sure Modano got there on time.
"It was the only free time they had there," Mike Sr. said. "We did that for years."
Karen remembers Mike coming home from school, putting on his hockey uniform and sitting in the living room watching cartoons until his dad came home. Either that, or Modano would coax his mom into grabbing a garbage can lid and becoming a goalie trying to stop pucks in the basement.
"There's not a pipe in our basement that's not nicked up," Karen Modano said. "A guy came over from our old neighborhood and said the garage door is still the same. We put a great big smiley [face] in there and that becamse the net. Now, go for it. A garbage can was not enough. He brought home a piece of broken Plexiglass from the rink and used that."
Many fans wonder why Modano decided not to retire as a Star after the 2009-2010 season. It ended so perfectly, with him scoring the tying and then winning goals in his final home game and waving goodbye to the Wild fans in Minnesota wearing his old NorthStars jersey. But Modano wasn't ready to take the skates off. And when the Red Wings called, it was a chance to give his family one more opportunity to see him.
"I had dinner with them twice a week," Modano said. "I saw them more than I did when I lived there."
Modano left home at age 16 to play junior hockey in Canada. He never returned, leapfrogging into an NHL career that spanned more than two decades. So to have that final year at home was important for him and his parents.
"Last Thanksgiving was the first Thanksgiving he's been home in 20 years," Karen said. "Last Christmas, the same thing."
Karen said she never went to a game by herself as Modano's sisters and friends wanted to attend the games.
"We only got to go a few times each season when the Stars came to Detroit," Karen said. "Last year, it was really wonderful until he was injured. That took a lot out of it."
A wrist injury forced Modano to miss half the season and he wasn't much of a factor in the postseason. His body was telling him it was time to stop, even though his mind wasn't so sure. He ends his career still in good shape.
"It's over," Modano said. "The build-up was probably worse than the reality, but it was hard to get through that up there today. So many people helped me and they are still there. That's the great thing about this sport."