Avalanche Exposé: Episode I, Joe Sakic

Zach BolenContributor IIIJanuary 16, 2010

14 Nov 1996:  Center Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche in action during a game against the Buffalo Sabres at the Marine Midland Arena in Buffalo, New York.  The Sabres won the game 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart  /Allsport
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

This is the first episode of a 10 part exposé on the greatest players in Colorado Avalanche history. This list will go more in depth on some of the players I had listed on my slide show, 10 Best Players In Colorado Avalanche History.

Now, this series of pieces on former Avalanche greats will not include all of the players on the list from before. We will see some new faces during the series, and learn some fun facts about the players.

I, of course, wanted to start with the best of the best. He was captain of the Avalanche for 14 seasons and played in the league for 20. I am referring to captain Joe Sakic.

Joe was born on born July 7, 1969, in Burnaby, British Columbia, to Marijan and Slavica Sakic. His parents were both immigrants from Croatia, a country located just south of Hungary, and across the Adriatic Sea from Italy.

Joe was raised to speak Croatian as his native language, not really learning to speak proper English until he reached kindergarten. This made Joe more of a quiet individual throughout his life. It wasn't hard to see that as a fan.

Growing up, Joe knew he wanted to play hockey. He frequented games, the first coming when he was around four years old. Little did Marijan and Slavica know, their son was destined for hockey immortality.

Joe caught on in Burnaby as a rising star in the game, which would turn out to be Joe's ticket to the start of his amazing career. Sakic was brought up to play for the Lethbridge/Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League (WHL).

In his first full season with the Broncos, Joe scored 133 points (60g, 73a) and was named the WHL Rookie of the Year.

This year was not all smiles for the Broncos however. On December 30th, 1986, the team experienced a true tragedy. While en route to a game against the Regina Pats, the driver lost control on a patch of black ice and ended up going over an overpass.

Four of Joe's teammates were killed in the accident, including Brent Ruff, brother of long time Saber Lindy Ruff. Joe has refused comment on the situation since.

In the pursuing year, Sakic outdid himself, scoring an amazing 160 points (78g, 82a). Sakic would win the WHL and CHL Player of the Year awards as well as the WHL Bob Clarke Trophy for being the leading scorer.

In the 1987 NHL entry draft, Sakic was selected 15th overall by the Quebec Nordiques. Joe felt like he wasn't quite ready for the pros just then, as he told the Nordiques management he would prefer to spend the 1987–88 season in Swift Current to prepare for the NHL.

Joe made his NHL debut on Oct. 6, 1988, against the Hartford Whalers. It took him until his third game, however, to score his first goal. It came against the team he would later go on to defeat in the Stanley Cup Finals, the New Jersey Devils.

Sakic would be a bright star on a terrible team. Joe scored 626 points in the 546 games he played while the team was still in Canada (234g, 392a). The team, however, would finish dead last in the league three straight years from 1989-1991.

In 1995, the NHL brass approved a relocation of the Nordiques to majestic Denver, Colorado. The state had not had a professional hockey team since 1982, when the original Colorado Rockies were relocated to East Rutherford, N.J., and were renamed the New Jersey Devils.

Sakic led the newly founded Colorado Avalanche to early success in the 1995-1996 season, scoring 120 points (51g, 69a). This new hockey team would hoist the Stanley Cup that season, sweeping the Florida Panthers in four games and bringing the first major sports championship to Denver in the city's long history.

Sakic would win the Conn Smythe trophy that season as the MVP of the playoffs.

Sakic continued his success over the next four seasons, leading the Avalanche to four straight Northwest titles. Three of the four years, the Avalanche appeared in the Western Conference Finals, and had lost two of the three to the Dallas Stars. However the Captain and his Avalanche would not give up.

In the 2000-2001 season, Super Joe (as Colorado fans had come to know him) would lead the Avs to become the sensation of the NHL, getting 52 wins, 16 losses, 10 ties and 4 overtime losses (52-16-10-4). This was the best record in the NHL and the Avs set a team record for most wins and points in a season. Super Joe would lead all Avalanche that season with 118 points (54g, 64a, both team bests).

With newly aquired players such as defensemen Ray Bourque and Rob Blake, the Avalanche soared in the playoffs. They were able to sweep the Canucks, beat the Kings in seven and dismantle the Blues in five.

The Avalanche called that playoff series 'Mission 16W". The Avalanche would face off against the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals, and win in seven games back home in Denver. Joe would score 26 points in the playoffs that year (13g, 13a), and his 13 goals would mark the second most in Stanley Cup playoff history.

That season, Sakic would go on to win the Hart Memorial Trophy (League MVP), the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (Sportsmanship) and the Lester B. Pearson Award (awarded for excellence in the regular season by the NHLPA). This would be a landmark on a career of greatness.

Joe never made it back to the Stanley Cup finals, and only made the Western Conference Finals once more in the 2001-2002 season. They went on to lose to the rival Detroit Red Wings in seven games. The Avalanche were perennial playoff contestants, but would find their efforts unsuccessful in the Conference Semi-finals.

Super Joe would continue to play with the Avalanche through the 2008-2009 season, signing a series of one-year contracts with the team. It seemed like his future playing hockey was uncertain.

A few years of being riddled with injuries was showing Sakic's age. In the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons, Joe played a combined 59 games. Joe had decided it was time to hang up the skates.

On Oct. 1, 2009. the Colorado Avalanche held a ceremony for their captain. They raised his jersey into the rafters above the home goal crease, making number 19 the third jersey number in Avalanche history to be retired.

His number is hanging beside the No. 77 Ray Bourque and No. 33 of course Patrick Roy, thus immortalizing him in Avalanche history.

As it is a no brainer that Joe Sakic will in the Hockey Hall of Fame, here is what he has accomplished to put him there:

CHL Player of the Year1988
WHL East Second All-Star Team1987
WHL East Player of the Year1987
WHL East Jim Piggot Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year)1987
WHL East First All-Star Team1988
WHL  Bob Clarke Trophy (Leading Scorer)1988
WHL Player of the Year1988
1995-96NHLConn Smythe Trophy
2000-01NHLHart Memorial Trophy
2000-01NHLLady Byng Memorial Trophy
2000-01NHLBud Light Plus-Minus Award
2000-01NHLLester B. Pearson Award
2003-04NHLNHL/Sheraton Road Performer Award


Joe Sakic was a great asset to hockey, he will be dearly missed in the game. Joe left as the league's eighth all time points leader; he retired with 1641 total points in 1378 games. Joe also holds almost every Avalanche team record including goals, seasons, games, assists, and overall points.





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