DETROIT – Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch remembers Mike Modano leading Ilitch’s Little Caesars Midget AAA hockey team to the organization’s first championship in 1985.
Now Ilitch hopes Modano can help the Red Wings win another Stanley Cup.
“I don’t want to talk too much, but Cuppy, Cuppy, Cuppy,” a smiling Ilitch said at a news conference Friday announcing the Livonia native’s signing. “I do feel it.”
The 40-year-old centre signed a one-year deal with the Red Wings worth $1.25 million and the possibility of US$500,000 more through performance-based bonuses.
Modano got his start in hockey playing for the club sponsored by the Little Caesars pizza chain, which Ilitch owns. Modano played for Little Caesars from ages 9-12, switched to rival Compuware—which is owned by Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos—at 13 and came back to Little Caesars to play at the ages of 14 and 15.
The Midget national title came when Modano was 14.
He has went on to become the highest scoring American-born player in NHL history with 557 goals and 1,359 points. The eight-time All-Star led the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup title in 1999. Modano played in the Olympics three times and helped the Americans win silver in 2002.
He said the opportunity to win another Stanley Cup is what prevented him from retiring after 20 seasons, all spent with the Minnesota/Dallas franchise.
“I think the possibility to win is something that you’re always chasing after when you’re older,” Modano said. “If there wasn’t a chance to win, I probably would have retired.”
With the Red Wings, he joins a talented group of forwards that also includes Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, Valtteri Filppula, Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary and Jiri Hudler, who is returning to Detroit after spending last season in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
Modano is expected to centre the third line, between Cleary and Hudler, and play the point on the second power-play unit.
“I think that (Modano) will just add to our offence,” Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said in a phone conversation from Sweden. “He can play centre or the wing. … It will just add depth to the offence.”
Detroit has a track record of getting contributions from older players. Players such as Igor Larionov—who also centred a third line for much of his time in Detroit, Slava Fetisov, Larry Murphy, Chris Chelios, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille all helped the Red Wings win Stanley Cups in their late 30s or early 40s.
Modano said he spoke with Hull, a former Dallas teammate, Chelios and Bertuzzi—whom he also knows well—before deciding to sign with the Red Wings.
“Seeing older players come here and have great success, they seem to get a second wind coming here,” Modano said.
Modano’s wife, actress Willa Ford, attended the news conference. He said she urged him to sign with Detroit.
Modano will wear No. 90. He previously wore No. 9, but that was worn by Red Wings’ legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Gordie Howe and is retired.
“It couldn’t have been a better script,” Ilitch said. “He starts here and ends up here.”