Ring of Famer
Join Date: Oct 2002
While many have come and gone, Sakic still Avs' heart
By George Johnson
Special to ESPN.com
Over the course of more than 17 seasons and more than 1,400 games, you'd think Joe Sakic had seen it all and done it all.
As he crossed the threshold into the visiting dressing room Thursday night at the Pengrowth Saddledome, after having just scored his 599th and 600th career goals and chipped in with three helpers to inspire a vital 7-5 comeback win over the Calgary Flames for the Colorado Avalanche, his teammates stopped what they were doing, stood and applauded.
Joe Sakic is only the 17th player in NHL history to reach 600 career goals.
A standing ovation from his peers.
"Never had that happen before," he admitted, looking a trifle flustered.
It usually happens only when someone's out on the ice in a suit, eyes glistening, surrounded by family, gazing up dumbstruck as his jersey is being hoisted to the rafters.
When his story is over.
Joe Sakic still has a chapter or two left in him to write.
Here, then, we pay homage to Quoteless Joe, the superstar who shuns the spotlight like a mob squealer holed up somewhere in Arizona in a witness protection program.
At 37, a time when others of his quality and legacy began to wind down, a time when an athlete thinks about moving into the TV booth or into upper management, Sakic continues to defy time, he wins games and sets the standard for others to follow. He tries to push his way into the top 10 in scoring, holding off prodigious whippersnappers such as Russian phenom Evgeni Malkin and "new" NHL icons like the diminutive Daniel Briere.
Sakic became only the 15th man in history to reach 600 career goals, and he's done it all for one organization (albeit in two cities). That night, the Avs trailed 2-0 and 4-2 to a team that this season has made its rink a veritable bone yard for transgressors. But while facing reigning Vezina Trophy winner Miikka Kiprusoff, Colorado did not sag, did not buckle, did not give up hope.
Silent Joe simply would not allow it.
These are no longer the bulked-up Avalanche of the Stanley Cup glory years, turning out perennial championship contenders. No Saint Patrick. No Peter the Great. No Ray. No Footie. No Drury. No Tanguay.
There's just Sakic.
If they do crack the top eight in a fiercely competitive Western Conference, know that No. 19 will have added significantly to his Hall of Fame portfolio.
This is not a person who wallows in nostalgia. And perhaps his insistence on looking ahead and not behind is the very thing that keeps him so fresh, so vital, so current -- the reason he still matters.
"He's just so well-prepared," Avs teammate Ian Laperriere said. "What he does during the season to stay in shape is what everybody else does in the summer. His conditioning is unbelievable. Sometimes you see him riding the bike in the morning and you want to say, 'Hey, didn't you play 25 minutes last night?' But what he does obviously works. We're talking about one of the top 10 players of all time.
"When you think of how many goals he's scored in this league … "
In the wake of No. 600, when asked about his very first NHL goal way back in 1988, when the Avalanche were still "Les Nordiques" and playing at Le Colisee in beautiful Quebec City, Sakic appeared momentarily stumped.
"I think Robert Picard set it up," he said. "The other guy? I don't know. You'd have to check. I was at the side of the net. [Picard] passed it over and I kind of poked it into the net. At least, that's how I remember it."
OK, as someone apparently unimpressed by 600 goals, what, in his opinion, would be a milestone worth celebrating?
"Patty Roy's all-time [goaltending] games-played record," Sakic replied. "That was fantastic. Being on the ice, being a small part of that, was really special."
Since arriving from the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League, nothing Joe Sakic has done has been small. And for all the accolades he's received through the years, they are nothing at all like what he's deserved. Because that side of the game simply is of no interest to him.
In his previous life as a Los Angeles King, Laperriere's job description was partly to get under the skin of the opposition's top guns. Being out West, he had many occasions to run into Joe Sakic.
"Oh, sure, you chirp at guys -- nothing personal, but about their game -- to try and throw them off, try and get an edge, make them think about something other than what they're supposed to be doing," Laperriere said. "But what could a guy like me possibly say to a guy like him? He's won Stanley Cups and Olympic gold medals. He just goes about his job, not saying much, being the best player on the ice at both ends.
"So why would he pay any attention to anything a guy like me had to say? Besides, if I did say anything to him on one shift, he'd just turn around and embarrass me on the next one. No, best to keep your mouth shut."
"He's playing as well as at any point in his career," said an awestruck (and thankful) Colorado coach Joel Quenneville. "I think the greatest thing you can say about Joe is that when he does retire, whenever that might be, he'll probably be still at the top of his game.
"How many players can honestly say that?"
The answer, of course, is: very, very few. Six hundred goals and counting and no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
"I'm trying to put into words," Laperriere said, "what he's meant to this franchise. What he still means to this franchise." A helpless shrug. "I guess 'everything' is about the best way to put it."