Joe Sakic loathed game-day skates.
The long-standing NHL morning ritual of loosening limbs and sharpening minds never really resonated with the Burnaby native. He would rather adjourn to the weight room and engage in a vigorous regimen of exercises, while his teammates went through the on-ice motions. And when they met the media, Sak-ic would often linger in the gym and do an extra set of squats or stretches – anything to avoid extra skating.
“To be honest with you, I hated them and thought they were useless and I was pretty lucky that they were always optional for the most part,” recalled Sakic. “I thought it was better to get a good stretch and get the legs going a bit. To put the equipment on, I just thought mentally it was a lot easier to go to your meetings, stretch out, go home and get ready for the game.”
The next game for the retired Sak-ic is the Legends Classic on Sunday in Toronto, a prelude to his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday along with Pavel Bure, Mats Sundin and Adam Oates. And while there was often another game at play with the media who hoped Sakic would speak at length – it spawned the moniker “Quoteless Joe” – the consummate captain preferred to let his play do the talking.
So don’t expect a long and rambling recount of Burnaby Joe’s career during the acceptance speech.
“On the podium, I’m just going to be thinking about getting through it,” he chuckled. “Really, I’ll be thinking about all the people who helped get me there.”
While there was plenty of help along the way in a remarkable 20-year career, Sakic did so much on his own. The determination alone spoke volumes. So did the numbers that have earned him a place in the Hall and the retirement of his No. 19 jersey by the Colorado Avalanche. Unleashing one of the league’s quickest and most accurate wrist shots allowed the mild-mannered, yet driven, centre to pile up 625 career goals and 1,016 assists over 1,378 games in a career that concluded after the 2008-09 season as hernia and back surgeries took a toll. Yet, when it mattered most, Sakic was just as effective, with 84 goals and 104 assists in 172 post-season games, and his legacy as a leader is unquestioned.
So was that shot, that looked a lot like Markus Naslund’s in his prime.
“I don’t remember, as a kid, having a great shot or having to rely on it,” said Sakic. “I enjoyed getting on the ice a little early or staying a little late and getting 20 to 30 pucks and trying to shoot as hard as I could. I wasn’t worried about accuracy. It was how hard and how quick I could shoot. Through repetition, it became natural.”
While much should be made of two Stanley Cup championships with the Avalanche in 1996 and 2001 – along with Conn Smythe, Hart Trophy, and Lester B. Pearson Award honours – Sakic was an international star from the outset. He experienced a World Cup of Hockey triumph in 2004, won Olympic gold and MVP honours with Team Canada in 2002, a world championship in 1994 and world junior title in 1988. It was the same year he was named WHL and CHL player of the year with the Swift Current Broncos.