By Terry Frei, The Denver Post
In 1996 and 2001, Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic accepted the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. The second time, in a move that summarized Sakic’s selfless nature, he quickly handed off the most famous championship trophy in sports to teammate Ray Bourque, who had waited 22 years for the chance to raise it.
Last year, Sakic retired after 20 seasons in the league as the 14th-leading goal scorer in NHL history, with 625, and as the eighth-leading point producer with 1,641. Although he at times shared the Avalanche marquee with other superstars –– including Patrick Roy, Peter Forsberg and Bourque –– Sakic was the face of the franchise.
Despite his retirement, he and his wife, Debbie, have remained in the Denver area with their children –– Mitchell, Kamryn and Chase — and Joe helped coach his two sons’ Littleton Hockey Association teams last season. That illustrated the depth of the roots which Sakic, a Vancouver-area native, put down in The Mile High City after the franchise arrived in Denver from Quebec in 1995. Youth hockey — and indeed hockey at all levels — subsequently boomed in Denver, in large part because of the attention he and the Avalanche brought to the sport.
Sakic is a North American success story. His father, Marijan, and his mother, Slavica, journeyed separately from their native land to Canada, where they married and started a family. When he began attending school in the Vancouver area, Sakic already was known for being a young boy of few words, and those few words were Croatian. Beginning to play at the local rink, he discovered that hockey was Canada’s universal language. Marijan, a stonemason, built a rink in the Sakic backyard, but he and Slavica still rounded up $300 to buy a family membership at the North Shore Club so their daughter, Rosemarie, could practice figure skating. As part of the deal, Joe and his brother, Brian, also were able to play hockey at the club.
A prodigy, Joe ended up with the Lethbridge Broncos of the major Western (Junior) Hockey League at the end of the 1985-86 season and then relocated with the Broncos to Swift Current, Saskatchewan, the next season. On Dec. 30, 1986, the Broncos were headed to Regina on the team bus when the driver lost control in icy conditions. In the resulting crash, four Broncos playing cards at the back of the bus sustained fatal injuries. Sakic, sitting up front, climbed out through the windshield.
Sakic joined Quebec’s NHL pro team for the 1988-89 season. After seven seasons there, he came with the Nordiques when they relocated to Denver and he was introduced as the captain in a welcoming ceremony at McNichols Sports Arena even before the team was christened the Avalanche. Colorado won those two championships during his career, but Sakic’s dream season was 2000-01 when the Avalanche again won the Stanley Cup and he was the Hart Trophy winner as the League MVP in the regular season.
This can never be taken away: Sakic always will be the captain of Colorado’s first big-league championship team.
His NHL accomplishments were immortalized as a headlining individual in the 2012 Hockey Hall of Fame class. Sakic remains close to the game and Denver as the Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations for the Avalanche as of May 10, 2013, no longer wearing the iconic “C” across his chest, but retaining a great responsibility making the final decision on all hockey personnel.
As a kid, you dream of winning the Stanley Cup. As you get older, you understand the importance of winning the Olympics.