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Modano, former U.S. teammates still think back to 2002 Olympic loss to Canada

It's one of his fondest memories and biggest regrets.

Mike Modano still thinks about his country's loss to Canada in the gold medal game at the 2002 Olympics. In fact, the highest-scoring U.S.-born NHLer of all-time even finds himself trying to dissect that game with guys like Chris Chelios, who was also part of the American team in Salt Lake City.

"We just knew that sometimes your window of opportunity is very small and you'd love to take advantage of the opportunities (when) you're there," Modano said Tuesday on a conference call. "It was tough . . .

"When I see Chris and guys that were on the team, we still at times refer back to that game and wonder what we could have done to change the outcome."

The Americans came to Salt Lake hoping to repeat the Olympic triumphs of 1960 and 1980 with yet another gold medal on home soil. It was not to be.

Even though Modano wishes the outcome had been different, he considers it among his best experiences wearing a U.S. jersey. He was especially thrilled to have the opportunity to play for Herb Brooks, the man who coached the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team.

"Just having Herb there on the bench and having him be a part of that whole experience and being in the final, it's really tough to match the type of atmosphere that was going on there," said Modano.

Canada's 5-2 win over the U.S. ended a 50-year drought in Olympic men's hockey. It also came at a time when this country's image as the world's top hockey nation had taken several hits.

One of those came during the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, which was won by the Americans. Canada took the opening game of the best-of-three final in Philadelphia before losing the next two on home ice in Montreal.

That U.S. team featured the likes of Modano, Brett Hull, John LeClair, Doug Weight, Brian Leetch, Keith Tkachuk and Mike Richter - all in the prime of their careers. They were still considered underdogs against Canada in the final and created a new seminal moment for U.S. hockey fans of a different generation.

"The odds were against us going there and having to win (twice) in Montreal," said Modano. "That right there was probably a real springboard for the sport and Americans."

The 37-year-old Modano has more points (1,267) and goals (523) than any other U.S.-born player in NHL history. He surpassed both milestones during the last year and is under contract for another two seasons with the Dallas Stars.

Modano was the first overall pick of that franchise in 1988 when it was located in Minnesota.

The NHL landscape has changed drastically during his career and Modano has had a front-row seat to view it. Dallas has arguably seen more grassroots hockey growth than any other southern market that has welcomed an NHL team.

There were just two hockey arenas in the city before the Stars arrived in 1993. There are now 22.

"It really is one of the top five or six major sports towns in the country," said Modano. "I think people just took to the speed of the game.

"The grace of it, the skill, the goals, the fighting, the hitting."

As USA Hockey holds events across America this weekend to celebrate the game, Dallas can certainly be cited as an example of hockey's growth in that country.

Modano believes that there's still room for the NHL to tap into other U.S. markets like Seattle, Kansas City and Las Vegas. He is not among those who are ready to label the league's southern expansion a failure.

"Nashville, Florida, Phoenix - there's been areas that could be better," said Modano. "Time will tell with that. ...

"I think our standard was set so high, our bar's pretty high here in Texas. It's tough to compete with that."


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