“After having the privilege of playing for 20 years, I’m leaving the game of hockey with nothing but great memories and a sense of accomplishment,” Sakic said at his official retirement press conference in Denver. “The game has given me more than I ever dreamed of, and for that, I’m truly grateful.”
Sakic is the all-time leading scorer for the Avalanche, with 625 goals and 1,641 points in 1,378 games. The kicker here is that all of those points and all of those games played were with the same franchise. He is the face of the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche. According to The Denver Post, only three players in the NHL have scored more points with one franchise: Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux.
With the Avs, Sakic won two Stanley Cup Trophies, the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1996, the Hart Memorial Trophy in 2001, and the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in 2001. He also was World Championships gold medal winner in 1994 and an Olympic gold medal winner in 2002. And oh, yeah, he was a 13-time NHL All Star.
“He’ll go down as one of the best to ever play the game,” Wayne Gretzky said.
The debate has already started on how Sakic ranks amongst the greatest players of all time. Is Sakic amongst the best of the best players – the likes of Gretzky, Yzerman and Howe? While Sakic has the statistics to compare to their numbers, he is a different player. Gretzky and, even Yzerman to some extent, were great prodigies of the game. Gretzky’s hockey ability was unmatched. He was out of this world. Sakic on the other hand was human greatness on the ice. He was a quick, crafty and dedicated. Not that the other guys weren’t, but Sakic was just more of a workingman’s man on the ice.
And the fact that he was able to play 20 years in the sport says something as well. He knew how to take care of himself for longevity – a trait that many hockey players (i.e., Peter Forsburg) will never develop.
More than anything, Sakic was a humble yet clutch player. He brought his teammates and fans a feeling of security when that night’s game was at a crux.
My fondest memory of No. 19 was in the 1996 Western Conference semifinals where the Avalanche were in a heated triple-overtime game against the Blackhawks that seemed to never end. The game was so fast and so tense for those extra periods it was almost unbearable. (Really, I almost turned the TV to Cheers reruns about eight times during the hockey action). Funny thing was, the hockey was so intense, I couldn’t sit still, but it was getting so late that my dad couldn’t stay awake. The scene in our living room was hilarious. Here I am screaming at the television, kicking my dad trying to get him to wake up and my mom is screaming at me to keep it down. All of this at sometime around 1 a.m.
Finally, Joe put us all to rest when he redirected a pass from Alexei Gusarov in the third overtime and slipped the puck past Eddy Belfour. At the time it was a relief to win that tight a game. What I didn’t know is what a series changer Sakic’s goal really was. If the Avs would have lost that game, they would have gone down 3-1 in the series, and it would have been the third overtime loss in the series. But instead of being snake bit in overtime losses, the team momentum changed with Sakic’s goal and, according to The Post, went 10-2 the rest of the playoffs to a Stanley Cup win.
Another great Sakic moment came in 2001 when the Avs beat the Devils in game seven at home to win the Stanley Cup. They handed the Cup over to team Captain Sakic, who immediately handed it over to Defenseman Ray Bourque, who deserved a Stanley Cup more than just about anybody in the league at that time. The moment just showed what an unselfish player Sakic, was throughout his career. Sakic’s #19 sweater will soon be retired next to Bourque and Patrick Roy.
Joe Sakic officially announced his retirement at the same hotel where John Elway announced his retirement from the National Football League; the two men have brought excitement, sportsmanship and the love of sport to the Rocky Mountain region. When Elway retired, the Denver Broncos have had to turn the page and find a new face for the team.
The Avalanche must now do the same.
Neither team will never be the same.