For the first time in my memory as a hockey fan, Joe Sakic will not be an active player next season.
The 20-year veteran announced today that he’s retiring from the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche franchise that he helped dig out of the gutter. The team announced that it will retire the No. 19 jersey of the league’s eighth-highest-scoring player of all time next season.
I can vividly recall watching Sakic and the Nordiques play against the Sabres in Memorial Auditorium. The Nordiques were the league’s laughing stocks, but within a few years they posted the league’s best record, only to get upset in the first round of the playoffs.
I absolutely loved that team, and I still have a pennant in my basement that was signed by most of the players on that 94-95 squad – front and center, of course is Sakic.
The team moved to Denver the next season, robbing Quebec City of seeing Sakic skate the 1995-96 Stanley Cup around Canadian ice. The team won it all again in 2001 and was always near the top until the latter part of this decade, when a reliance upon older players crippled the Avalanche.
I am so glad that, thanks to my wife, I got to see Sakic play one last time in 2006-07. The Avalanche went on a torrid winning streak to end the season (including a victory over the Presidents Trophy-winning Sabres), only to fall one point short of the playoffs.
But Sakic is what every professional athlete should strive to be. He never complained when things were bad, never crowed when things were good and led strictly by example. It will be great to see him in the Hockey Hall of Fame in a few years.
Here, from The Associated Press, is the full story.
Longtime Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic is officially retiring after 20 seasons and two Stanley Cup titles.
The 40-year-old Sakic has been the face of the franchise since the team moved to Denver in 1995. He will formally announce his retirement plans at a 3 p.m. EDT news conference on Thursday.
Known for his lethal wrist shot and precision passing, Sakic leaves the game among the NHL’s career scoring leaders. He’s eighth in points (1,641), 11th in assists (1,016) and 14th in goals (625).
Sakic’s No. 19 sweater will also be retired, getting raised to the Pepsi Center rafters during a ceremony at the season opener, which is not yet scheduled. It will be just the third sweater retired in the 14-year history of the Avalanche, joining Patrick Roy (33) and Ray Bourque (77). The organization also retired four sweaters when they were the Quebec Nordiques.
“It is appropriate and deserving that we launch the season by honoring Joe’s accomplishments,” Avalanche president Pierre Lacroix said in a statement. “We can’t put into words what he meant to this franchise and to our hockey fans.”
Sakic was regarded as a quiet superstar, known for his clutch scoring — tallying an NHL-record eight overtime goals in the playoffs — and his class.
He captured the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship in 2001, showing his true character by handing the Stanley Cup over to Bourque after winning the title and letting the longtime defenseman skate it around the ice.
Over the last two years Sakic has been riddled with injuries. He missed most of the 2008-09 season with an aching back that required surgery to repair a herniated disk. He also damaged three fingers on his left hand in a snow-blower accident.
Sakic tried to make his way back onto the ice before the end of the season, but his body didn’t cooperate.
He departs with an impressive resume.
Sakic wore the captain’s “C” for 16 straight seasons, making him the second-longest serving captain in league history. He guided the team to Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001, won league MVP honors in 2001, was a 13-time All-Star and led Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal in 2002.
He skates away with no regrets.
“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. “The game has given me more than I ever dreamed of, and for that I am truly grateful.”
Never an intimidating presence — he’s only 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds — he made up for it with speed, determination and intelligence. There are only four players in league history that have scored more points with one franchise than Sakic: Gordie Howe (1,809) and Steve Yzerman (1,755) with Detroit, Mario Lemieux with Pittsburgh (1,723) and Wayne Gretzky with Edmonton (1,669).
Sakic also was remarkably consistent, scoring 30 or more goals in a franchise-record nine different seasons.
He leaves as the team’s leader in virtually every offensive category.
“His leadership, sportsmanship and respect for the game of hockey are legendary,” Avalanche owner E. Stanley Kroenke said.
Sakic was originally taken by Quebec with the 15th pick in the 1987 draft. He made his NHL debut on Oct. 6, 1988, picking up his first assist against the then Hartford Whalers. Two nights later against New Jersey, he scored his first goal.
That would be a familiar occurrence.
“Joe’s contributions have been invaluable and his achievements speak for themselves,” Lacroix said. “I find myself very much like a hockey fan, filled with a tremendous sense of satisfaction which comes from having had the opportunity to know him as a person, to have watched him play and simply appreciate him as a complete professional.”