On a young Team USA roster, Stars center Mike Modano sticks out not only for his 1970 birth date—he's five years older than Jamie Langenbrunner, the next eldest forward—but also because he's a throwback to what the team used to be. As the Olympic orientation camp opens next week in Woodridge, Ill., the 34 invitees represent a tremendous turnover. Twenty-two players, including the Blues' Erik Johnson and the Ducks' Bobby Ryan, are in their first Olympic camp, while stars such as Penguins winger Bill Guerin and Blues winger Keith Tkachuk, were left off the list for the first time since taking the U.S. to its last tournament victory, in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. From that gold medal team only Modano remains.
"At some point the changing of the guard is inevitable," U.S. general manager Brian Burke says, "but the guy who has performed at the highest level consistently is Mike Modano, to a degree that those [other older] guys have not matched."
Yet Modano, whose 543 NHL goals and 1,329 points are records for a U.S.-born player, is not a lock to make the final 23-man team. With fewer than 60 points in each of the past three NHL seasons, Modano isn't the offensive threat that he was when, for example, he had six assists in six games while helping Team USA win a silver medal at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. He has, however, embraced a more defensive role with Dallas while working hard to help younger players develop, qualities that resonated with Burke and the Olympic team selection committee.
"His production has fallen off, but his usefulness as a player has not," Burke says. "The metamorphosis you want to see in an older player has already taken place with Modo. Now the question is: Are there guys better in that [third-line] role than he is? As much as I respect Mike Modano, we'll go with the group that we think gives us the best chance to win."
The callowness of Team USA may suit Modano, who has become accustomed to being surrounded by youth. Last season he often shared the ice with 21-year-old James Neal, whose 24 goals ranked second among NHL rookies, and 24-year-old Fabian Brunnstrom. Modano, who consistently arrives early and prepares assiduously for games, was the first Star back on the team's ice this summer, and it is he who organizes the players-only skates before training camp begins.
The Olympic selection process hardly ends after the three-day camp (final rosters aren't set until late December, well before the start of the Games), and proving that he deserves a spot on the team, Modano says, will motivate him in the early months of the season. If it weren't for the lure of Vancouver 2010, he might not have returned for his 20th year in the NHL. "To be thought of [as a potential Olympian] is humbling, and you don't want to disappoint them," Modano says of the team selectors. "My hope is to make it a little difficult for them [to exclude me] come February."
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JIM MCISAAC/GETTY IMAGES (MODANO)
LABOR OF LOVE Modano's scoring is down, but his disciplined work ethic could inspire teammates, as it has in Dallas.