Joe Sakic had a unique way of fading into the background throughout his career.
That gift rightfully deserted him Thursday, however, as he walked away from the game he blessed for two decades with his passion and uncommon grace. As he announced his retirement as a player from the Colorado Avalanche
, Sakic was forced to bask in the spotlight he had artfully and actively shunned for so long.
It was about time, too, considering nobody -- not any of the players that grabbed the majority of the headlines throughout Sakic's time with the franchise, dating back to its days in Quebec -- did more for the club than the quiet, unimposing man from Burnaby, B.C.
On Thursday it was Joe Sakic
front and center, a turn of events that pleased his legion of admirers to no end. There was no more "Joe being Joe" -- retreating to the background and heaping praise on others to deflect it away from himself. Sakic, for once, was the center of attention, a place he should have occupied -- but didn't -- throughout his career.
Think about it for a minute.
Here is a player that holds his franchise's record for seasons played, games played, goals, assists and points, yet he was rarely, if ever, the focal point of the franchise.
Sakic was welcomed into the League during the 1987 Entry Draft; his name was called by the Quebec Nordiques after 14 other players had been selected. Pierre Turgeon
and Brendan Shanahan
, the first and second picks, respectively, were the flavors that day.
Sakic was a smallish forward who had put up obscene numbers in the Western Hockey League, but questions remained whether he could skate well enough for his junior hockey success to translate to the pro game.
The Nordiques believed he could and, as a result, Sakic became one of the cornerstones of a revival that saw Colorado become a model franchise throughout a decade that stretched from the middle of the 1990s until 2005.
During that stretch, beginning with the 1995 move from Quebec to Denver, the Avalanche won a pair of Stanley Cups, reached four other Western Conference Finals and finished first in their division for an astounding nine-straight seasons, beginning with their final season as the Nordiques.
Even as the franchise changed from a perennial also-ran -- missing the playoffs in five of Sakic's first six seasons -- to a standard bearer of success, Sakic never was "the man."
Mainly, he remained in the shadows because he so chose. Sakic walked -- and talked --softly, but carried a loud stick. He scored important goals and set up even bigger goals, yet he never made headlines with a me-first gesture or a juicy quote.
He let his play do his talking and left others to fill up the tape recorders and notebooks.
Upon Sakic's arrival in Quebec City, Peter Stastny
was the established star on the team. Soon after Stastny's departure, a young Mats Sundin
arrived on the scene to steal the spotlight.
Then it was another Swede -- the amazing Peter Forsberg
-- that commanded all the attention in Denver with his slick moves and 100,000-watt smile.
Next, there was the goalie -- some guy named Patrick Roy
that you might have heard of -- who, in the minds of many, delivered those Stanley Cups to the Rocky Mountains.
Roy, a French-Canadian legend who had been elevated to sainthood during his decade-long run of success with the Montreal Canadiens
, arrived in the city during the 1995-96 season and immediately became the darling of Denver as he led the franchise to its first Cup following a four-game sweep of the Florida Panthers
Five years later, as the Avs brought a second Stanley Cup home, all the talk was about defenseman Ray Bourque
, who had been brought in a year earlier from Boston to win the prize that had eluded him throughout a distinguished career with the Bruins.
Through it all, Sakic quietly went about his business -- schooling the franchise's young players in the art of winning, honing his lethal wrist shot and shunning the spotlight -- in the unassuming and professional manner that is as much a part of his legacy as all of the championships -- World Junior and Olympic gold included -- he has amassed during his brilliant career.
Thursday, though, the time for modesty for Sakic came to a close. Sure, if he had his way, he would have quietly retreated from the game with as little fanfare as possible. Fortunately, the hockey gods refused to allow such a travesty to happen.
Instead, Sakic was forced into the bright lights, forced to acknowledge the greatness that defined his two decades in the National Hockey League.
On this day, Sakic finally assumed the mantle of all-time great that has been his all along.