There were two special goodbye celebrations, one planned and the other more spontaneous, last night in the National Hockey League.
In Pittsburgh the Penguins played their last regular season home game at Mellon Arena---aka The Igloo---their home since 1967. A trip down memory lane was part of an extended pre-game ceremony held by the Penguins, culminating in one of the coolest on-ice team photos ever as former Penguins and current Penguins gathered at center ice.
They were all there last night in Pittsburgh. Mario Lemieux, Craig Patrick, Bryan Trottier, Eddie Johnston, Phil Coffey, Sidney Crosby, Mike Lange, the great Voice of the Penguins. The late Bob Johnson was remembered and included. Classy night all around, celebrating my personal favorite arena in the NHL.
I'll miss the old barn; miss walking up the hill from downtown and seeing the glistening silver dome up ahead of me; miss getting lost time and again in the bowels of an arena I never could quite navigate perfectly; miss the distinct pipes of the PA announcer; miss the roar of the hometown fans.
Of course there is still more hockey, playoff hockey, to be played at The Igloo this spring before the barn gets razed. That's why the feel in Pittsburgh last night was one of pure celebration, because there was still the feel that another great memory or two lay right around the corner.
In Dallas, there was a different kind of celebration, one that was generated by true love of a city and a fan base for one special player, Mike Modano (above), who quite likely was playing his final home game before retirement beckons him.
It was an incredibly spontaneous and emotional three hours in Dallas last night, building from the roars during pre-game warmups all the way through Modano's selection as the game's First Star and ensuing twirl around the ice.
Modano was brought to tears more than once last night. With less than six minutes remaining in regulation, the Stars organization played a video tribute to Modano on the jumbotron. What followed was a long sustained outpouring of love as Modano received a deserved standing ovation from the crowd. Not only did his teammates join in standing and saluting the player who has been the face of the Stars franchise since it still played in Minnesota back in 1989, but so did the Anaheim Ducks' players---the Stars' opponents on this night---and the officials on the ice.
A player who personifies class, as well as world-class skill, it was no surprise to see opponents and officials join in the salute to the all-time U.S. born goals leader.
Somehow Modano was able to compose himself and score the tying goal on a deflection with 1:47 left to play. The great ones, even at the end of their illustrious careers, are able to script signature moments one more time, more often than not. And Modano delivered.
And then he delivered again. After being denied on a partial breakaway in overtime by Jonas Hiller, Modano scored the shootout deciding goal in a 3-2 Stars victory.
"It was tough to leave the ice (at the end of the game)," said Modano, who soaked in the cheers one last time after beind named First Star. "Not knowing what the future holds, whether this was it or wasn't. The fans were fantastic."
In typical deadpan manner, Modano concluded with the following comment:
"This is probably the end....but you never know, I may come down with a case of Favre-itis!"