One of the most touching moments of Mike Modano’s speech as he had his No. 9 retired before Saturday’s Stars-Wild game was when he talked about Wild assistant coach Rick Wilson.
When Modano was a teenager, Wilson recruited him to come to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and play in the Western Hockey League. He scored 127 points in 1987-88 and became the No. 1 overall pick by the North Stars in the 1988 draft.
“I don’t think I’d be who I am or did what I did without him finding me and taking me up to Prince Albert,” Modano said. “You look back and wonder what life would have been without that decision.”
After Modano uttered Wilson’s name Saturday, tears welled in his eyes. He needed a moment to gather himself. Wilson, with his wife, Carol, at his side, “was humbled.”
“We have a long history and a very good relationship,” said Wilson, who coached Modano with the Raiders, North Stars and Stars. “I know it was heartfelt from his point and I received it the same way.”
Modano tweaked his speech about eight times, including a final draft Saturday afternoon.
“It was tough every time I came back to Rick’s page and looked at what he meant,” Modano said. “He meant the world to me in my career and my life. I really thought I’d stick around and go off to college, but he was instrumental in a lot of things in my life in getting me to Canada. I did the math, maybe 30 years I’ve known the guy. Yeah, when it came around to him, I knew I’d have some trouble.”
Wilson said Prince Albert was Modano’s first taste of life on his own.
“I probably took the place of what he was used to,” Wilson said. “Although, you coach and have to be hard, but there was a trust factor that was built.”
One night after his turnover led to Erik Cole’s late third-period winning goal in Dallas, veteran defenseman Keith Ballard was scratched for Nate Prosser Sunday against St. Louis.
“That was determined before we played the game [in Dallas],” coach Mike Yeo insisted. “So the play that happened had no relevance on this decision.”
Yeo wasn’t fibbing. He told reporters before Saturday’s game that there was a “good chance” Prosser would play Sunday, and with Clayton Stoner the Wild’s most physical defenseman, it’s doubtful he would have sat against the Blues’ big, aggressive forwards.
Hullabaloo over Haula
Rookie center Erik Haula wasn’t disciplined for barreling into Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen. Haula, who was tripped by the Stars’ Cody Eakin, was assessed a charging major and game misconduct. The Stars tied the score on the five-minute power play.
Frustrated that his goaltender sustained a concussion, Stars coach Lindy Ruff called it a “dirt play” by a “fourth-liner.”
“We’re not looking to run the goaltender by any means,” Yeo said. “We want to be aggressive to the net, taking pucks there, driving there with and without the puck. It was unfortunate the way things happened, but when I look at it again, I’m not sure what else he can do. You don’t want a player to bail out and not try to score a goal in that situation.”
Haula, the Gophers’ leading scorer the past two seasons, scored a shorthanded goal earlier in the game and coincidentally talked Saturday morning about his fourth-line and penalty-killing role with the Wild.
“You’ve got to always start somewhere,” Haula said Saturday. “I love my role on the team. I’ve accepted it and try to make the most of it every night.”