DENVER -- An ordinary Joe? Well, yes and no. Joe Sakic, elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame on Tuesday, was anything but an average hockey player during his 20-season career in the NHL, the first seven with the Quebec Nordiques and the final 13 with the Colorado Avalanche after the franchise moved to Denver in 1995.
The former star center's statistics speak for themselves, which is so appropriate because Sakic relished his reputation for saying so little about his own remarkable achievements over the years. Never a braggart or one to say anything controversial that might merit a mention on a sports talk show or nightly sportscast, he even joked with some pride about his "Quoteless Joe" reputation for giving bland responses in interviews, repeating the nickname himself with a smile and twinkle in his eye.
He was as approachable and friendly as any athlete, a guy who was willing to talk about almost any topic -- as long as it wasn't about himself.
Rarely was a disparaging word heard about Sakic from any player or fan from around the League, including those from archrival Detroit during the Avalanche's often bloody rivalry with the Red Wings. They were especially respectful of Sakic because of his self-effacing personality and classy behavior on and off the ice.
Former teammates insist Sakic could be quite the prankster in the privacy of the locker room while acknowledging he was a person who generally led by example rather than with words during his time as team captain.
"When something needed to be said, Joe was able to say it," Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, who won his only Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 2001, once told me. "Joe didn't need to say very much. If you're out there doing the right things in how you prepare and how you play, that's what guys see."
Yet, Sakic's calm demeanor concealed a fierce competitive nature. When the game was on the line, who better than Sakic to have the puck on his stick, ready to carry his team on his back and unleash one of the most dangerous and accurate wrist shots in League history?
Hardly an imposing physical specimen at 5-feet-11 and 195 pounds, Sakic used deceptive speed and smarts to score 625 goals, 15th on the all-time list, unleashing a wicked wrist shot to cause plenty of grief for goalies over the years.
A superb two-way center, Sakic didn't receive as much credit for his defensive work as he could have, maybe because he was so gifted at the offensive end of the ice. Always a tireless worker and a clutch performer, eight of his 84 playoff goals were scored in overtime, an NHL record. He was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1996 when he amassed 18 goals and 16 assists in 22 playoff games, leading the Avalanche to the first of their two Stanley Cups.
While there were plenty of other exploits and honors during Sakic's splendid career, perhaps his most memorable moment took place on the Pepsi Center ice on June 9, 2001. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had just handed the Stanley Cup to Sakic following the Avalanche's 3-1 victory against the New Jersey Devils in Game 7. As team captain, Sakic could have continued the time-honored tradition of being the first player to hoist the silver chalice. Instead, he immediately handed it to an emotional Bourque for the honor, his championship quest having finally reached fruition after 22 frustrating seasons.
It was a typical, selfless gesture by Sakic, always a class act.
Now an executive adviser with the Avalanche, Sakic is still an icon in Denver, as popular as ever with the team's fans three years after his retirement. He and his wife Debbie live in the area with their three children, and the family remains active in the community. Sakic has coached his two sons in hockey, he helps to dole out Turkey dinners at homeless shelters on Thanksgiving, and he runs a charity golf tournament every summer that benefits the Food Bank of the Rockies, providing millions of meals for the needy.
But that's just Sakic being Sakic, a humble and caring guy who has never changed despite all of the accolades and riches that have come his way.
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