SUN Hockey Pool

Turning back the clock

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:09 AM ET

It's like he's turned back time.

Mike Modano is the first to concede there were times during the 2003-04 season, his 15th in the NHL, it seemed optimistic to think he had five more games with the Dallas Stars left in him.

Five more seasons? Not a chance. Not the way Modano struggled mightily to a career-low 44 points. Not with the distress and distraction that came with losing millions to an unscrupulous business manager.

But there was Modano last night, dashing up and down the ice at Rexall Place, skates flashing with that familiar No. 9 jersey rippling in his wake against the Edmonton Oilers. Modano looked 25 again, not 35.

With a five-year contract in his pocket, his off-ice tribulations behind him and open space to dangle ahead of him thanks to the NHL's crackdown on obstruction, Modano is flying again.

Done? Not nearly.

"I was a headcase that whole season," said Modano, who had three assists in a 3-2 overtime win over Calgary Thursday before being held off the score sheet in a 3-2 win over the Oilers last night. "That process was pretty draining. To think about having to play hockey after that . . . you wish you could have a do-over and erase everything, but it happened. It was a learning experience."

FOCUS IS BACK

When he emerged from the lockout, Modano vowed to put his woes behind him. The financial hit, about $5 million, was considerable, but not as bad as first feared. His focus is back. Mo's got game again.

The resurgence began with the contract. It's worth $17.5 million, although Modano left money on the table spurning offers from Boston and Chicago. The deal wasn't about money. It was about staying in Texas and putting an exclamation mark on a fine career -- on his own terms.

"I knew what we had here," Modano said. "I knew what my situation long after hockey is going to be like in Dallas. I have a lot of things going on in that city.

"You really can't put a price on that . . . the first year I was there, I think we had one high school hockey team there. Now, there's 87 or 88. The game's grown. It's nice to think you had a little hand in the development of hockey in that area."

Coach Dave Tippett marvels at Modano's turnaround.

"Mo's in a good place," Tippett said of Modano's state-of-mind. "I think he feels like he has a lot to prove right now, and he's just going about his business."

Tippett and Modano talked long and hard before the new contract was signed. Could he again be the same player, the go-to-guy, he was? Should he remain captain?

"To say we had numerous conversations about how I felt our team had to be led would be an understatement," Tippett said. "With the young guys, he's really taken a strong step forward to make sure this team is headed in the right direction.

"That (contract) speaks volumes. He didn't do it to be comfortable here. He actually wanted it as a purpose for staying here."

To understate, the year off helped Modano immensely.

It allowed the six-time all-star to sort things out and step back, to recharge and to refocus.

"I got away from a lot of things," he said.

"It was good timing that there was a lockout, just to get away from the game for mental-sake and sanity.

"Nothing went well for me on the ice. I was waiting for something positive to happen. The harder I tried, the worse it got."

With the past put to rest, the new deal done and open ice waiting, Modano is, well, Modano again.

'HAVE FUN'

"I'm content and comfortable and happy where I'm at," he said. "When you don't have to worry about those things, it feels good just to go out there and have fun and concentrate on hockey.

"Who knows how many years I'm going to play? You want to make them the best years you can. You want to go out on a high, not be pushed out of the game."


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