Colorado Avalanche franchise superstar and nearly career-long captain, center Joe Sakic, has announced his retirement after 17 incredible NHL seasons, all spent with the Avalanche franchise. He won 2 Stanley Cups, 1 Conn Smythe, 1 Hart Trophy, and finished with 1,641 career points, the 8th most in NHL history.
However, Sakic (I just learned today from an old interview with Sakic that his name is correctly pronounced "Sa-kich", not the common English pronunciation "Sa-kik") was far more than just his achievements. He was a heart and soul all-around player that was the core of the franchise for its entire in the Rocky Mountains. He was and is THE Avalanche player. There so much I could, and want, to say about Joe Sakic that I don't even know where to start. There is no player like him, nor will there ever be. Hockey will miss him unbelievably. This is truly a sad and emotional day not just for die-hard Avalanche fans like myself, but for the NHL and sports as a whole. You'd be hard pressed to find a hockey fan who hasn't heard of the name Joe Sakic. Many players, including the recent Avs draftee and likely NHL star Matt Duchene, have idolized and modeled their games after him.
Sakic could fill every part of the game. He obviously could score goals. In fact, he own the greatest, most powerful, most accurate, and certainly fastest wrist shot I'v seen in my whole life. His wrist shot was harder and faster than most people's slapshots. When he let one of those rip, if he didn't score, he'd at least make one heck of a golden opportunity.
Sakic was also one of the game's great playmakers. In fact, in his usual humble manner, he'd more often pass his teammate than fire the shot himself. He could make beautiful, quick, fluid passes that would find the player even if his was in the midst of a maze of activity. Sakic had vision like a hawk. He was aware of everything around him on the ice. Not only that, but he was a genius hockey player. He knew the right choice to make at the right time even when he only had a second to make it. Few other players have ever had the instincts and hockey sense of Sakic. He was also a great faceoff man, winning crucial draws when the team really needed it.
While he usually was a finesse-type player, he could also be a great physical player when the situation called for it. In fact, though he only had one fight in his whole career (vs. Doug Gilmour of the Chicago Blackhawks), he really kicked butt. More importantly, he could hold his own in tough situations in-game against the great defensemen and enforcers of the league. Heck, often they'd have trouble even catching him. Joe Sakic was one fast guy, with amazing acceleration. He was a tremendously gifted skater, who, if he got off on a breakaway, could not be caught.
For all his offensive talent, Sakic was also an fantastic defensive player. He knew all about how to play defensively and could put himself in just the right spot to foil an opposing player's plan. He could read players amazingly well. He knew what they were thinking. Often Sakic would be out on the penalty kill as much as the power play. Sakic has been rightly called one of the greatest two-way players of all time.
Sakic was an amazingly creative hockey player. He was always coming up with new strategies and moves to win a game. Once the shootout was added to the NHL at the start of the 2005-06 season, Sakic quickly came up with an incredible move that goalies never really did figure out how to beat. He'd go down the slot and get the goalie thinking Sakic would pull to his left to shoot, but then would gracefully sweep the puck to his right, making the goalie commit himself, deke around the goalie, and just as he'd pass by the side of the net he'd backhand the puck right to the top shelf. That move surprised and entertained me to death every time I watched it.
One thing that will always be remembered about Joe was his ability to surprise and steal game, to add that much needed play of goal at just the right moment. Long time Avs color commentator Peter McNabb labeled Sakic as the greatest clutch player in the history of the game. Sakic is the all time NHL leader in overtime playoff goals with 8 (a few years ago he passed the great Maurice "The Rocket" Richard to become the all time leader). Any Avs fan can give you examples of times he stole a game when the Avs most needed it. He always came through for Colorado.
That was the kind of player Joey was. His amazing skills and leadership earned him nicknames such as "Super Joe" and "Smokin' Joe". He was one heck of a leader. Sakic, however, was the kind of player who had a pure natural presence about him. When he stepped on the ice, everybody, including the opposing team, respected him. I don't think I've ever heard any player, coach, or sports commentator or writer speak one negative thing about Joe Sakic. He commanded respect without saying so much as a word. His playing, the way he handled himself, and his great integrity always spoke itself. Sakic, from the time he came to Colorado to the time of his retirement was always one of the most respected people in the NHL. Now, he will be one of the most respected players of all time.
Something that will always be remembered about Joe by fans, staff, and players alike is his tremendous integrity. His amazing sportsmanship even won him the Lady Bing Trophy in 2001, the year he lead the Avalanche to their second and most recent Stanely Cup championship. Never have I seen such a humble and classy player. He is, in fact, one of the classiest people I've witnessed in my life, even outside of hockey, and I've never even had the honor of meeting him. He never, despite his achievements, spoke about himself, nor did he ever want the spotlight on himself. He wanted it on everyone else, especially his team and his family. That's who Joey really was and still is.
He was known not just as a gentleman on the ice, but off it as well. He was always friendly to the people around him, signing autographs and attending Avalanche-related events. But what really stood out was the was he always reached out to help others, especially those in need. He supported and personally helped out in numerous charities, many of which we never even hear about. Many charities he supported were for children. If he was ever presented with an award or some other honor and there would be people lined up to give it to him, if there was a kid, that would be the first person he'd go up to and talk to. Today I saw a short video of Sakic during a stoppage in a game and he skated to the Plexiglas were a kid who couldn't have been more than a few years old sat with his mom. He then leaned over with his face against the tiny space between the glass so he could talk to him.
Sakic's a fantastic family man. He has three young kids and loves them all dearly, and they him. As he spoke at his retirement press conference earlier today, you could see one of his boys crying as he watched his dad on the stage, saying his goodbyes. His family loved watching him play, and his kids obviously think the world of him. He also dearly loves his wife, and they seem to have a great marriage. When Sakic was asked today what he'd want to be remembered as, his response was that he wanted to be remembered as a good family man, and a good hockey player. Mission far more than accomplished, Joe.
I didn't become a serious Avs fan until 2001 when the Avalanche won the Cup. My greatest memory to this day was the moment that Joe Sakic handed Ray Bourque, likely the greatest defenseman of all time, his first Stanley Cup, the one he'd played his entire 20 year career to get. Traditionally it's the captain who first hoists the Cup when his team wins it. Not Joe. In his usual, selfless manner, he received the Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and immediately skated to Ray to let him lift it first. After that night, I was the Avaholic I still am today, and my favorite player was Joe Sakic. The first jersey I ever bought was a then home jersey sporting the Avalanche burgundy and white. I still have it in my closet a few yards away from me as I type this message, hanging proudly next to Bourque and former star Avs goalie Patrick Roy jerseys. I have a Sakic picture mounted on my wall just a little beyond my computer monitor. Before a took interest in the position of goaltender, I wanted to model my game after Joe's just like so many, many others did and still do. Even now, Sakic remains (with a couple others) my favorite NHL player of all time.
What I most love and admire about Sakic, above all else, is his walk with the Lord. My favorite thing about seeing Sakic on TV is not to watch him play or hear him speak, but to look into his eyes. Sure, I know as a fact from all I've heard that Sakic is a born-again Christian, but those eyes are the eyes of a man who is a TRUE Christian, not someone who prays and goes to church and other than that life his life for himself in whatever way he chooses. Those eyes are the eyes of a man who walks closely with God, and loves Him greatly. What I see in his eyes are great strength, power, and wisdom, and that blessing he received through God has been wonderfully demonstrated throughout his whole life as we've seen him. That's what I'll miss most about Joe Sakic, but I hope that someday I'll meet him in person, not just on this Earth, but greater yet in the Lord's wondrous Kingdom of Heaven. There I'll get to know the man behind the eyes as I want to know him.
Joe Sakic's passing from the hockey world as a player will always leave a gaping hole, one that the Avs will never be able to fill, no matter how long or hard they try. He's absolutely irreplaceable. There never has been another player like Joe, nor will there ever be. He was one of a kind, one that will be remembered by hockey fans for as long as the world endures.
We'll all miss Joe Sakic very much. While I so, so much wish he could have kept playing at least for one more year, I know he's made the right choice. I'm sure he talked it over carefully and thoughtfully with his family before coming to his decision, and most importantly, I'm sure he devoted it to the Lord through prayer and consideration. I'm sure the Lord gave him peace with this. It's time. While I'll never be ready to see him leave, I do hope he continues to be involved in hockey, in what ever position God has for him, if that God's will, and hopefully, that place will remain in Colorado where the fans will continue to enjoy his presence and commitment.
Even now I get choked up myself just thinking about his retiring from the Avs and from the NHL. Yet I'm also happy for him. This is the next chapter in his life, as he said, and he'll love and enjoy being able to spend as much time with his family as he wants now; something far, far more important than hockey, as great a game as it may be. He'll be missed by us still watching, though, and we'll always miss him.
He set a example for years to come in the game of hockey, and for all those he worked with and met off the ice. Truly there will never be another Joe Sakic. But we will always have the ememory of him, and what he did for us.
Joe Sakic was the core of the Avalanche franchise. He is what made hockey great in the state of Colorado. We'll never forget him.
Goodbye, Joe. Thank you so, so very much.
To view the Denver Post's story on Sakic's retirement, go here:
A video tribute to Sakic: