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Avs honor Sakic by retiring his No. 19

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER -- Joe Sakic returned to the area where he has always felt the most comfortable -- the ice.

But on Thursday, he stepped onto the ice to be honored by the Colorado Avalanche, who retired his No. 19 jersey and raised a banner honoring their longtime captain to the Pepsi Center rafters, joining those of Patrick Roy (No. 33) and Ray Bourque (No. 77).

"You never could imagine you’re going to have that honor, have your number raised up in the rafters – not growing up, not ever," Sakic said following a 45-minute ceremony before the Avalanche and San Jose Sharks met in the season opener for both teams.

"To see it up there with Patrick and Ray, it’s a tremendous honor."

Sakic, who announced his retirement on July 9 following a 20-year NHL career that began with the Quebec Nordiques in 1988, teased the sellout crowd of 18,007 during his speech that he was "kind of getting that itch" to play again.

The crowd roared, as it did numerous times during his remarks, but Sakic later told reporters he wasn’t really serious about making a comeback.

"What itch?" he said with a smile. "It was in the moment. You do look forward to opening night, especially at home. When I played and trained, you couldn’t wait for that game to start. Just being out there and seeing the guys.

"I know I'll be up in the stands watching and there are going to be parts of me saying, 'I wish I was out there.’ But no, there’s actually no itch to come back."

Sakic, 40, acknowledged he will miss playing but said he hasn’t second-guessed his decision to hang up his skates.

"Not once," he said. "I'm very comfortable with my decision. I knew it was time to retire. My body wasn’t going to give me that opportunity to be the player I wanted to be. I know I made the right decision.

"I'm just happy that I got the opportunity to come out and say it to the fans, and tell them what I think. Hockey's my life. It's given me everything, and I've been so lucky to play it. But when it's time to go, it's time to go. As much as I know I’m going to miss playing, I'm still probably going to be around the game."

Sakic said he was a bit nervous while making his way into the arena, walking on a red carpet through the newly-constructed Pepsi Center Plaza of Fame. From there, he was escorted by a member of each of the five branches of the U.S. military, as well as the Canadian military.

Sakic embraced each member of the Avs' coaching and training staff before entering the locker room. He was greeted by new captain and longtime teammate Adam Foote, who led Sakic to his old locker stall, which now holds his jersey and equipment and has been enclosed in glass for posterity.

"They didn’t even give me a heads-up on that," Sakic said. "When I walked in the room and saw that, I did a double-take. Honestly, when I saw that, I almost broke down. I got a chance to really look at it (after the ceremony). Never in my life or in my dreams could I imagine that. That’s something I really appreciate."

Sakic shook hands with each Avalanche player before heading onto a red carpet on the ice as the Black Eyed Peas’ "Tonight is Going to be a Good Night" blared over the arena’s sound system.

The crowd responded with the first of many rousing standing ovations.

Sakic’s parents, Slavica and Marijan, were in a seating area on the carpeted ice, along with his wife, Debbie, and their three children, Mitchell, Chase and Kamryn.

"You never could imagine you’re going to have that honor, have your number raised up in the rafters – not growing up, not ever. To see it up there with Patrick and Ray, it’s a tremendous honor."
-- Joe Sakic

Highlights of Sakic's career were shown on the video boards, after which the women were presented with bouquets and the children received commemorative gifts.

Former Colorado defenseman Alexei Gusarov, on behalf of the newly-formed Avalanche Alumni Association, presented Sakic with a painting of him hoisting the Stanley Cup. Owner Stan Kroenke and team president Pierre Lacroix presented him with a painting depicting a Rocky Mountain scene.

"Without a doubt, he has been the face of the franchise for over two decades," Lacroix told the crowd. He closed his remarks with "Thanks for the memories."

Then it was Sakic’s turn. He thanked former Quebec Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut and Nordiques fans for their support during his seven seasons with the team, which moved to Denver in 1995.

Sakic thanked his parents, family, Kroenke, Lacroix, agent Don Baizley, former teammates, the Avalanche staff and, finally, the fans. Many of them yelled "Thank you, Joe" and broke into a "Super Joe" chant before his No. 19 banner was raised.

Following the ceremony, each Avalanche player wore a commemorative No. 19 jersey for the pregame warmup. The jerseys were signed by Sakic and each player and were put up for auction on The auction runs through Oct. 15 and benefits Kroenke Sports Charities.

Several former teammates were in attendance, including Peter Forsberg, Pierre Turgeon, Shjon Podein and Curtis Leschyshyn.

"I really did enjoy it," Sakic said of the festivities before he returned to the ice to drop the ceremonial first puck between Foote and Sharks captain Rob Blake, who played with Sakic as a member of the Avalanche’s 2001 championship team.

"It was pretty exciting, for my family and especially for me," Sakic added. "I thought I was going to choke up just walking out there. I didn’t think I’d be able to hold up. But as soon as I got on the ice, it felt comfortable. It was great. Any time you want to talk to me, just bring me on the ice."

Since announcing his retirement, Sakic has done some traveling with his family, including a trip to Canada. He was born in Vancouver and grew up in nearby Burnaby, B.C.

"For a couple months we traveled around and enjoyed the family time," he said. "But once school started, we were back here."

The Sakics will continue to maintain a home in Denver and remain heavily involved in charity work, which includes the Food Bank of the Rockies.

Sakic will spend the immediate future being a stay-at-home dad, coaching his two sons in youth hockey, "taking advantage of the mountains now," and concentrating on fantasy football and golf.

"Right now I’m really enjoying spending time with my family," he said. "My intentions were to take the year off and then see what capacity (in hockey) I want to get involved in and in what role I’d like to do."

But Sakic has no desire to coach, other than with his children.

"No, they’re at the rink more than players," he said.

Sakic said he will attend the Winter Olympics in Vancouver "as a fan. I've already talked to (Canada general manager) Steve (Yzerman). If he asks my opinion on something, I give it to him. But that’s good enough for me."

Sakic leaves as the owner of practically every offensive record in franchise history and sits eighth on the NHL’s all-time list for points (1,641), 11th in assists (1,016) and 14th in goals (625). He scored 30 or more goals nine times, ranks seventh for playoff goals (84) and points (188) and holds the record for overtime goals in postseason play with eight.

A first-round selection (No. 15) by the Nordiques in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft, Sakic won the Hart and Lady Byng trophies and the Lester B. Pearson Award in 2001, and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1996, when the Avs won the franchise's first Stanley Cup.

Sakic represented Canada in three Olympic Games, won a gold medal in 2002 when he was named the tournament’s most valuable player, and he captained the 2006 squad.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter has proclaimed Thursday as "Joe Sakic Day" throughout the state and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper announced that 19th Street downtown will be named "Joe Sakic Way" through Oct. 19.

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