WOODRIDGE, Ill. -- Moments after Team USA was embarrassed and eliminated from medal contention at the 2006 Olympics, one of its most celebrated players let loose and bitterly suggested it was time for the organization to get some new blood involved.
Presumably Mike Modano wasn't talking about himself back then, although the way America's entry at the Vancouver Games next February is shaping up, it does seem like the powers that be took his advice to heart.
|Mike Modano has played for Team USA in the last three Olympics. (Getty Images)|
And the oldest among them by far is Modano, who says one of the biggest reasons he decided to return for a 20th NHL season with the Dallas Stars was the chance to be a part of an Olympic team that might have players who were in diapers when he was drafted first overall in 1988.
Thing is Modano still believes he can contribute to a group of young whippersnappers on an international stage, and he wants nothing more than the chance to prove it for the 12th and quite likely the final time in his illustrious career.
"I've tried to stay consistent over my career and to be involved in this as much as I can, but you feel very honored to still be thought of at my age and where my career is at," Modano said. "I feel very fortunate to be here."
He probably should even though he has always answered the call for his country in the past. Modano has been to the last three Olympics and worn Team USA colors at several Canada Cup, World Championship and World Junior Championship tournaments, a level of participation that in theory would make it a no-brainer choice to include him.
However, Modano seemed to have kissed his chances of being on this team goodbye by tearing into the organization at Torino and carping about everything from his playing time to the team's travel arrangements.
"I was frustrated," Modano said. "After those games, the first people you see right after the game is the media and you don't get a chance to calm down and take a breath. Obviously, my first reaction was to lash out and say some things that obviously I wish I wouldn't have said a couple of days later when the smoke settled. So to get an invite here is great."
Naturally there are some cynics who have suggested the invitation was extended for sentimental reasons. Modano is the last link to what is arguably the greatest era for American hockey, the one that hit its peak in 1996 by winning the World Cup and followed with a silver medal at Salt Lake in 2002. But, clearly he is no longer the dynamic offensive force he once was.
In fact Modano had only 46 points in 80 games last season and rarely saw time on either of the Stars' top two lines or power play, but Team USA general manager Brian Burke said the way the veteran has accepted the change in his role speaks volumes about what Modano can contribute as a leader to a young team.
"His production has fallen off, his ice time has diminished, but his usefulness as a player has not," Burke said. "He's worked very hard and he still performs at a very high level. He's here legitimately."
That said, Modano has no more of an in than any other American-born player, including those that are missing from the orientation camp or not even on the brain trust's radar. The Livonia, Michigan native said the possibility of being in Vancouver has motivated him to start training and prepping for the season earlier than usual, but he realizes he still has to play well enough in the first half of the season to make the final roster cut in December.
Even if he does, Modano might only be in a supporting role, something the veteran understands but hopes can be expanded if circumstances warrant it.
"You hope it has a lot of two-way involved, but obviously this is a big change with the influx of young talent coming in," Modano said. "The hardest part to let go is your responsibility and your role and how it fits on the team.
"But when you have guys who can skate fast and check the puck back, it makes your job easier. They can do all the things at a high level so you just get them the puck and some open ice and be a quiet, consistent guy who isn't forced to make the spectacular play."
Even if he still might be able to.