- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2011

Matt Hendricks has a framed picture on his wall from a game he played in 2009 while with the Colorado Avalanche. But this special photo isn’t of his first NHL game or first NHL goal.

It’s of him taking a faceoff against childhood hero Mike Modano.

“It’s pretty neat and something I’ll never forget,” Hendricks said.

On Wednesday, word came out that Modano was retiring, and the Dallas Stars great will make it official with the announcement Friday.

Hendricks‘ eyes lit up with boyhood passion when talking about Modano, though he certainly wasn’t the only one around the Capitals who crossed paths with the no-doubt future Hall of Famer.

“I have always said that on all the teams I have played on and/or coached he was by far the most skilled — the most skilled player that I have ever played with,” said Caps assistant coach Dean Evason, who spent two seasons with Modano in Dallas. “To watch him in practice — it was almost beautiful to watch him skate, shoot, pass. Everything was effortless.”

Modano played in 1,499 regular-season NHL games, finishing with an “effortless” 561 goals and 813 assists. He won a Cup with the Stars in 1999.

Modano is revered for his speed and production — John Erskine called him “one of the fastest I ever played with” – but that’s not everything.

“There was nights where [coach Bob Gainey] pushed him hard to go to those core areas, those dirty areas, to score goals and not just be a perimeter player,” Evason said. “And I think Mike didn’t get a lot of credit for how gritty he played the game.”

Modano became the best American-born forward in history during his 21-year career in the NHL and also played for the United States in 11 different international competitions from the world junior championships in 1988 to the Olympics in 2006. He helped the U.S. win a gold medal at the 1996 World Hockey Championship.

And inspired U.S.-born players like Hendricks a long time ago.

“He was a phenomenal player — someone I tried to emulate to the best of my abilities. Obviously I don’t have the abilities that he has,” Hendricks said. “But what an energetic, exciting player to watch.”

It hurt for Hendricks and other Minnesota hockey fans to see the Stars leave for Dallas, but that’s where Modano helped turn the Texas city into a hockey town.

Evason recalled how the Stars marketed Modano and Shane Churla (Churla more for the “cowboy up” idea). One of those guys worked out a little better than the other.

“He was the face of Dallas,” Erskine said. “When you think of Dallas Stars, you thought of Mike Modano.”

And there are certainly similarities between Modano in Dallas and Alex Ovechkin in Washington.

“Ovi has a similar identity here,” said Jeff Halpern, who played with Modano from 2006 to 2008. “I think for Mike, when the North Stars moved to Dallas he was the superstar that came with the franchise and that was their first taste of any kind of hockey.”

Hendricks never got a chance to meet Modano during his playing days but still has an autograph he got from the NHL star when he was 10 years old. That, along with the picture, is still cherished.

For the record, Hendricks lost that faceoff — but his memories of Modano will go well beyond that.

“I hate to see him go,” Hendricks said. “But he definitely left a great imprint in my mind and was a very classy guy on and off the ice.”

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