When the Cowboys launched in 1960, football was the city’s only major professional sport. Baseball followed in 1972 and basketball in 1980. It wasn’t until the Dallas Stars arrived in 1993 that the city finally boasted franchises of all four major sports. But ice hockey in Texas? Could there really be a fan base?
The Stars were armed with a secret weapon, a fresh-faced young star named Mike Modano. He would lead the team to a Stanley Cup and become the highest-scoring American-born player in a sport dominated by Canadians and Europeans. But Modano’s longest-lasting legacy was introducing hockey to Dallas and making it stick. Before the Stars left Minnesota, the front office told their star they would lean on him to sell his sport.
“They said in order to make this work, to get it off the ground, that they needed me to help a little bit, go the extra mile,” Modano remembers. “Do some Hockey 101 stuff, some camps, little things to help people get acclimated, get the kids involved, get on TV and radio, try to build some hype and some attention.”
At first, it was rough. But Modano knew if the Stars played great hockey, Dallasites would fall for the game. “In 1998, we had the conference finals against the Red Wings,” Modano says. “I think that took it to a whole new level. People got a taste of playoff hockey, and at that point, they were hooked.”
Off the ice, the franchise took to the community, building rinks, running camps, and starting leagues. “Now, every couple of years, you have a good player that comes out of here and goes to Canada and goes to college and gets a lot of recognition and attention,” Modano says. And while Dallas has started to export top talent, its original import stayed. After a season in his home state of Michigan with the Detroit Red Wings, Modano returned to Dallas to retire as a Dallas Star.
“I grew up with the sport,” he says. “And I grew up with the city and its people.”