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#19 Back for Season 20

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
You could list the statistics and accomplishments for days.

Eighth on the NHL’s all-time scoring chart with 1,629 career points. Eleventh in league history with 1,006 assists and 14th in goals with 623.

Thirteen All-Star Game selections and three appearances – including one gold medal – at the Olympic Winter Games.

One Hart Trophy, a Conn Smythe, a Lester B. Pearson Award and two celebrations with Lord Stanley.

Joe Sakic has done it all in his career.

While that amount of personal and team success might quench the thirst of most players, No. 19 proved his competitive fire is still burning strong by agreeing to a one-year deal last week to return to the Avalanche. Sakic will suit up for his 20th NHL season during the 2008-09 campaign, which will also mark his 16th straight season as the franchise’s captain.

While the announcement of Sakic’s return was made last Wednesday, a formal press conference was delayed until Tuesday due to the presence of the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

When Sakic and Avalanche Executive Vice President and General Manager Francois Giguere addressed the media on Tuesday, Giguere dubbed it as the “unofficial kicking off point” for the upcoming campaign.

“It’s early in September, but this is a great way to kick off our 2008-09 season,” said Giguere. “Joe is the face of our franchise and the ultimate leader of this team. He’s a unique athlete who is in great condition. He proved last year during our push for the playoffs and in the playoffs that he still plays at a high level.”

From the moment the Avs’ 2007-08 season ended, Sakic made it clear that he wouldn’t rush his decision one way or another. He felt he needed adequate time to come to a definitive decision on whether to play another season, and stressed that point only minutes after Colorado was eliminated from the postseason.

“I’m going to take my time and think about it over the summer,” the Avalanche captain said at the time. “It’s something obviously I need to make a decision on. Discuss it with my family and see where we go. But right now I just need to take some time.”

On Tuesday, Sakic spoke about the thought process that went into his decision, and complimented the organization on how they handled the entire process.

“I want to thank Francois and the organization for allowing me to have that time to really think about my future,” said Sakic. “After the season and into June, I really wasn’t ready to think about playing hockey. Over the summer, coming back, I started to really train hard in July to see if I could do it again and if the excitement came back.”

As is the case with many athletes, something within Sakic clicked when the time for training camp grew closer.

“Around the middle part of August I kind of had that feeling and made up my mind at that time, but still wanted to hold off for another week or so just to make sure I was making the right decision. The passion is back in play for another year, and I’m really looking forward to this.”

When the subject of Joe Sakic comes up in Colorado, the talk immediately turns to hockey – and rightfully so. His presence, coupled with the success of the Avalanche organization, has brought hockey to a new level in the state.

But in the same breath, onlookers are quick to point out how important his impact on the area has been away from the rink. The face of the Avalanche’s franchise for nearly two decades, Sakic is known as one of hockey’s all-around good guys.

He visits The Children’s Hospital each year in December with his teammates and – along with his wife, Debbie – takes an active role in raising money to fight childhood hunger. In conjunction with the Food Bank of the Rockies, the veteran forward hosts the annual Joe Sakic Celebrity Golf Classic and also plays a role in the organization’s “Bring Hope to the Table Celebration.”

When combining his accomplishments on the ice with those in the community, Joe Sakic means as much to Denver as any athlete in the city’s history.

That being said, when Giguere was asked if his hopes of having No. 19 suiting up for his 20th season began to waver as the start of training camp approached, the Avalanche GM countered with a different line of thinking.

“I’d say completely the opposite. I had a chance to sit down with Joe probably 36 hours after the season ended. I just had a bad feeling in the meeting that it might be the last time we would be in a meeting where he was a player,” said Giguere. “I really believed that the more time he was given, the more he would realize that it was in him that he wanted to play more.”

Giguere turned out to be correct, and now Sakic is as excited as anyone to be back skating with his teammates.

“I’m excited with the group we have,” said Sakic. “Last year there were such high expectations and we never really did have the opportunity to gel as a team. The biggest thing is how you jell. Team chemistry is the most important thing in sports. If we can get that right off the bat and stay injury free, we’ve got a good mix of experience and youth.”
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