Joe Sakic vividly remembers attending his first NHL game at Pacific Coliseum and seeing the Vancouver Canucks play host to the Atlanta Flames. He was with his dad. He was four years old.
The score and the date are all long forgotten, but the memory of the event lives on in Sakic's mind because it was at that game that the young child from Burnaby, B.C., decided he wanted to be a hockey player.
"I don't think I remember anything else from age 10 down, but I do remember that," Sakic said. "I wanted to play that sport."
He played it like a Hall of Famer, which is exactly what Sakic will become later this year.
The Hockey Hall of Fame announced Tuesday that the 18-member selection committee voted for Sakic and fellow first-time eligible candidate Mats Sundin along with holdovers Pavel Bure and Adam Oates to make up the Class of 2012. They will officially become honored members of the Hall of Fame in a ceremony on Nov. 12 in Toronto.
Sakic and Sundin each retired following the 2008-09 season, so they waited the required three years before being eligible for induction per the Hall's rules. Bure retired in 2003 and has been eligible for induction since 2006. Oates, whose banner day also included him being named the new coach of the Washington Capitals, retired in 2004 and has been eligible since 2007.
"I think what it is, is you really fall in love," Sakic said. "I fell in love with playing hockey. That's all I wanted to do, whether it was on the ice or street hockey, it didn't really matter."
Sakic was considered a shoo-in for induction in his first year eligible. He won everything he could possibly win in a 20-year playing career in the NHL, including the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001, the Hart Trophy, the Conn Smythe Trophy and an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada in 2002, when he was also named the tournament's MVP.
He played his entire career with the Quebec/Colorado franchise and registered 1,641 points on 625 goals and 1,016 assists -- all are franchise records. He is still with the Avalanche in an executive role.
"When I look back at all the great players I played against and with, not only as a player and a person, Joe Sakic is right up there at No. 1," said Sundin, who played four seasons with Sakic in Quebec before being dealt to Toronto. "What a role model for me to break into the League with a team like that, having players like Joe Sakic to really help you out. A big reason why I had a chance to be inducted is because of Joe Sakic."
Mats Sundin put up 1,349 points in 1,346 games during 18 NHL seasons, including 13 in Toronto. (Photo: Getty Images)
Sundin went on to greatness in a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater. He played 13 seasons in Toronto and was the Leafs' captain from 1997-2008. Sundin holds franchise records for most goals (420), assists by a forward (567) and total points (987). He finished his career with 564 goals and 785 assists for 1,349 points in 1,346 games.
Sundin never won the Stanley Cup with the Leafs, but he was without question the face of the franchise for many years and at least helped Toronto reach the Eastern Conference Finals in 1999. He came to Toronto in a trade that sent Leafs captain and fan favorite Wendel Clark to Quebec.
"I think you have to be part of the Toronto Maple Leafs to understand the importance of the team for the city of Toronto," Sundin said. "It took a little while to learn that and also to understand the pressure to be a Toronto Maple Leafs player and coach and management, to live with that. The whole city lives and breathes the Toronto Maple Leafs. The longer you're there, you appreciate it more and you understand it's bigger than just trying to be a player. It was certainly the best time of my life.
"There is no team in the sports world that deserves to win a championship more than the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hopefully there will be a championship in Toronto soon."
Sundin, who was the first European to be drafted No. 1 (1989 by Quebec), also had a marvelous career on the international stage. He played in 14 tournaments for Team Sweden and capped his international career by captaining Tre Kroner to the gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
"You could instantly tell what a great hockey player Mats was," Sakic said. "He would take over and dominate games even in his rookie year. Obviously we got split up and he became a great leader for the Maple Leafs. Just a tremendous hockey player. Every time we played Toronto, you circled one guy. Mats was just a force there. I loved watching Mats play."
"When I look back at all the great players I played against and with, not only as a player and a person, Joe Sakic is right up there at No. 1 ... A big reason why I had a chance to be inducted is because of Joe Sakic." -- Mats Sundin, who played four seasons with Sakic in Quebec before being dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs
Oates is still striving for his first Stanley Cup championship. He came close as an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils this month, but fell two wins short in losing to the Los Angeles Kings. Now he'll try as a rookie head coach with the Washington Capitals, a position he was appointed to just a few hours before he got the call from the Hall.
"Obviously it's a fantastic day," Oates said. "I don't know if that has ever happened before. I gotta go out and play lotto."
Maybe he can pass the money to someone else and let them buy the ticket. After all, Oates was at his best over a 19-year NHL career delivering the goods so someone else could cash in on the rewards.
He is sixth all-time in the NHL in assists with 1,079. He added 341 goals for 1,420 points in 1,337 games combined with Detroit, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, Anaheim and Edmonton from 1985-2004. He credits his father's passion for soccer and his parents' push for him to be an unselfish athlete for his ability to pass the puck.
"Yes, Wayne Gretzky was the best player to ever play the game, but I tell you one thing -- in my era it was Wayne and Adam Oates for playmaking," Sakic said. "He made everybody around him better. If there is a guy you want on your team to set anybody up it was Adam Oates. He was unbelievable, one of the best playmakers of all time."
Remarkably, Oates was never drafted into the NHL. He was bypassed and instead went to play college hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. Oates played three seasons and won a NCAA Division I championship in 1985 before the Detroit Red Wings signed him as a free agent.
He went on to stardom in St. Louis playing alongside Brett Hull before putting up 142 points with Boston in 1992-93 and then 112 in 1993-94. Oates was still the NHL's best assist man at the age of 39. He finished with 69 assists for Washington in 2000-01.
"I was kind of a late-bloomer," Oates said. "When the scouts look at the draft, they look at the big kids. I was a small kid, a late-bloomer that slipped through the cracks. It allowed me to go to college, and then came that second wave of guys that got signed. I got to play 19 years in this League, and I'm very fortunate."
Bure got to play only 12 seasons due to chronic knee problems, but he packed a lot into that time. After defecting with his family from Russia to play in Vancouver, Bure won the Calder Trophy as the League's best rookie in 1992 and went on to be a two-time 60-goal scorer. He also scored 59 in one season and 58 in another.
Bure played in only 702 games, but he scored 779 points. He averaged 36.7 goals per season.
"It's a huge honor to be in the Hall of Fame," Bure said from Russia. "I wouldn't be there without Pat Quinn. He was my first coach, my first general manager and president. He was like a father for me."
Quinn, who is one of the co-chairs for the Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee, said Tuesday was an especially proud day for him. He coached Bure in Vancouver, Sundin in Toronto and Sakic at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
"It's just incredible, really," Quinn said. "Having been around Pavel and Mats, and then also Joe on the Canadian teams, it's been such a privilege for me as a coach and hockey person. I watched them perform at such high levels all the time. I watched Pavel grow as a 20-year-old and become one of the brightest starts in the game. Mats was truly one of the great captains. With Joe, he was just spectacular in 2002. He was such a privilege to be around. He was a key leader for us. We wouldn't have a gold medal but for his accomplishments.
"I am proud today. It's a good day for me as well."