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Meet Joe Sakic, the 'anti-Owens'

by Phil Coffey /

If left to his own devices, no one would know about the charitable work Colorado’s Joe Sakic and his wife, Debbie, do during the course of the year.

Sakic is the “Anti-Owens”, a superior athlete who would rather have his actions speak for him. He tolerates the spotlight, doesn’t seek it.

But the NHL Foundation blew his cover this week, honoring Sakic for his community efforts with a $25,000 gift to the pediatrics oncology unit at The Children’s Hospital. Sakic’s primary community focus is supporting organizations that provide food, medical care and other resources to low-income families and children.

According to Adrian Dater in the Denver Post, the Sakics have helped get 8,581,248 meals to hungry people in Colorado since 1998 through the Food Bank of the Rockies. It’s a figures that boggles the mind; not only in terms of the help provided, but the fact that many people require such assistance.

“You don’t want to have to help out, really,” Sakic said. “You wish you didn’t have to. You wish everybody had enough to eat and there was no need for you to help. But that’s not the case.”

“Joe is probably the most sincere person I’ve ever met in my life,” Foodbank official Kristina Cordova told Dater. “He’s very involved with us. He’s always asking about ways to do more. He’s always saying, ‘We’ve got to do it for the kids.’ He and Debbie have just done so much for this community. People don’t know.”

And now people know that the guy wearing the “C” for the Avalanche is more than just a great hockey player. Sorry Joe.

“They’re the future,” Sakic told The Post in discussing the children. “It’s not their fault they don’t have enough food to eat. Anything you can do to help them along, I’m all for it.”

Sakic told Dater that during his third year in Denver he and Debbie were “searching around for something to get involved with” and were steered toward the Food Bank of the Rockies after meeting a friend from Coors Brewing Co., during a golf outing.

“We thought it was perfect,” Sakic said. “You can see the difference right away, what nutritious food does. I mean, when we’re hungry, it’s ‘Let’s eat.’ But some people have to wait. I’m fortunate; I get to play hockey for a living and do very well. Giving some of it back makes it worthwhile.”

For the good of the kid -- Jonathan Bernier will have plenty of better days ahead of him in the NHL, so the Los Angeles Kings, struggling to start the season, made the smart decision to send the young goalie back to the junior ranks with the Lewiston Maineiacs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

After all, a steady diet of turmoil isn’t good for young player, especially for a goalie taking on the NHL for the first time.

“In no way is this an indictment of him,” Kings GM Dean Lombardi told reporters after making the decision to return Bernier to the Quebec League. “No way did we anticipate him going this far. When he came in, I thought he’d play half an exhibition game.”

Still, the decision wasn’t an easy one.

“It almost borders on a moral dilemma,” Lombardi said. “You also have to ask yourself what’s best for him and the franchise. That’s an enormous amount of responsibility he’s going to have to carry one day. You can’t push that too fast. It may be a nebulous thing, but why risk it at this stage of the kid’s career, and why risk it for the franchise?”

Bernie was 1-3, winning his first game against the Ducks in the season-opening game in London. He had a 4.03 goals-against average and .864 save percentage.

“He’s shown lots of ability to play and play well; lots of ability to bounce back from goals or anything that could be construed as a mistake,” Kings coach Marc Crawford told reporters. “But what we’re saying is that not right now. Now is not the time for him to be here. ... He wanted to continue to try and make a difference, but we’re not going to give him that opportunity. We’re going to concentrate on his development.”

Dabbling in planes -- As Peter Forsberg recovers from his injuries and mulls his hockey future, you’ll be relieved to know he’s keeping busy – launching his own airline.

According to the Swedish newspaper Allehanda, Forsberg’s new airline is called Hoga Kusten. Translated, that’s “high coast” in Swedish. The airline will be operated by Forspro, a holding company that is co-owned by Forsberg. Forspro also owns the overseas distribution rights to Crocs footwear.

Night of the Comeback -- Monday night was a light one on the NHL calendar with only three games. What made it stand out is that all three games were decided by third-period comebacks.

The Sabres rallied past the Leafs in overtime, 5-4. The Sharks roared back to beat the Canucks 4-2 and the Ducks rallied past the Red Wings, 6-3.

The Sabres rallied back from two-goal deficits nine times last season, so comebacks are nothing new there.

“We’ve got the ability to come back in games,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “They’ve (the Leafs) had the misfortune of losing a couple games late, and I think that recipe makes it dangerous for them. They lack a little confidence to close it out, and I think we still have confidence that we can get back in any game.”

Which is a nice tool to have in the box.

“It’s the strong mentality of this club,” Ales Kotalik said. “We have a strong group in here. We never give up, and we believe in each other and work for each other.”

In Anaheim, the Ducks got goals from six different players, but the consensus of opinion was goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov saved the Ducks’ bacon. Come to think of it, is that possible?

“It’s been a rough start, but I think a lot of the players played their best game tonight,” Ducks forward Chris Kunitz said.

The Sharks rallied on the road against the Canucks and San Jose saw Jonathan Cheechoo pick up his first points on the season, scoring a goal and an assist.

San Jose scored three goals in 3:20 in the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie.

So far, calm in Calgary -- Craig Conroy has seen some classic Mike Keenan explosions from his days in St. Louis, but so far so good in Calgary, where “Iron Mike” hasn’t peeled the paint off the walls despite a 2-2-2 start.

“For the most part, where I thought maybe he was going to snap and lose it, he’s been pretty calm,” Conroy told reporters. “He’s still not happy, he still says it. The delivery’s changed. That’s the biggest difference that I’ve noticed. He could scream at us, but he hasn’t been. He hasn’t been yelling and screaming. He’s just kind of laying it on the line. ‘This is what it is.’

“Everything that he’s saying, it’s a little more calm in the way he says it. It’s just true -- you know it’s true. Every guy in the room knows when he says it, it’s like, ‘You know what? He’s right.’ “

Ah, but a few years ago, when Keenan was behind the Blues’ bench and Brett Hull was still playing, it was a different story, according to Conroy.

”I was definitely on edge,” Conroy said of being blue as a Blue. “But there was a lot of stuff going on then, between him and Hull, just kind of the whole thing. There were always rumors that Hully was gonna get traded or Mike was going to get let go. Back and forth. It made it uncomfortable.”

Cup motivates Roenick -- You might guess that the pursuit of 500 goals is the motivating factor for Jeremy Roenick these days. After all, he is sitting at 497. But it is the chance to win his first Stanley Cup that brought Roenick from the cusp of retirement to the San Jose Sharks.

”That's the only reason I'm here, man," Roenick said. "If that doesn't happen (win a Cup) it will be a disappointment."

Which isn’t to say 500 goals would be chopped liver.

"That would be great," Roenick said. "That would be a true treat; but that's not my goal right now. That will be something I can look back at when I'm done and really feel good about myself. No. 1 would be the Stanley Cup.

"I was ready to retire without it," he said. "It was more being on a winning team and having a chance to win a Cup. I wouldn't play for a team that is going to go out and lose every night again. It's too hard mentally, physically, emotionally. It backfires into the family life. At this point in my career I couldn't do that."

But San Jose has been the perfect fit so far.

"It's a treat coming to the rink every day," he said. "It's fun knowing I just come and be one of 25 guys. I don't have to carry a load but want to help pull. That's a good feeling for me."

Material from personal interviews, wire services, newspaper, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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