He was a consummate captain with a terrorizing wrist shot. He was a big-game player and always humble in his accomplishments. He has won nearly every significant award and honour a player can, has more points (1,641) than all but eight players in NHL history, and on Monday he’ll add one more career accomplishment when he is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In the second installment of our four-part series highlighting the greatness of the 2012 Hall of Fame class, we take a look back at the brilliant career of Joe Sakic.
1. He was a Stanley Cup champion.
Hockey returned to the Mile High City for the 1995-96 season, and Sakic delivered one hell of a homecoming gift. Jaded Quebec Nordiques fans watched from across the continent as their former captain dragged the Colorado Avalanche to their first championship title in franchise history. Sakic scored 18 goals — good for second most in playoff history — including six game-winners and 34 points to earn Conn Smythe honours and lifetime local hero status (step aside, Roseanne).
2. He was a great player but a better person.
If you’re looking for a defining moment that exemplifies Sakic’s greatness as a player and his quality of character, Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup final is it. First he sealed Colorado’s second Stanley Cup title with his playoff-leading 13th goal and 26th point midway through the second period, a laser wrister over the glove of Martin Brodeur.
Then, after being handed the Cup, Sakic promptly handed it to Hall of Fame defenceman Ray Bourque, who had waited 22 years for that moment.
3. His wrist shot was so scary, goalies checked under their bed for it before they went to sleep.
A good portion of Sakic’s 625 career goals is the product of his otherworldly wrist shot — goalies were no match for the lightning-quick release, deceptive delivery and pinpoint precision of Sakic’s not-so-secret weapon.
“The crazy thing about his shot is you couldn’t read the release with it — you just could not read the release on it,” former goalie Kevin Weekes recently told NHL.com. “Maybe after practising with him you could pick up his tendency, but being an opposing player you just couldn’t tell. He didn’t telegraph where it was going and it was such a quick, violent release that you couldn’t get a beat on it.”
4. He was a destroyer of ancient curses.
Sakic always showed up in the big game, and there were few in his storied career more significant than the 2002 Olympic gold medal game against the United States.
Burnaby Joe scored the game-winning goal in the second period and added the dagger in the third to help Canada win its first Olympic hockey gold in 50 years. He finished the game with four points and was named tournament MVP.
5. He is part of the elite Triple Gold Club.
By winning gold at the 2002 Olympic Games, Sakic became just the 11th player to win both Olympic and world championship gold plus the Stanley Cup. He also won gold at the 1988 world juniors and 2004 World Cup.
6. He was an MVP.
Shortly after hoisting his second Stanley Cup, Sakic added more hardware to his mantle after beating out Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux for the Hart Trophy. Sakic led all players with 54 goals (a career high), 12 game-winning goals, a plus-45 rating and was second in points with 118. He also took home the Lester B. Pearson Award and Lady Byng Award that season.
7. He was never not great.
Sakic lit up the WHL circuit in two seasons as a member of the Swift Current Broncos. He was named the CHL player of the year in 1988 after scoring 78 goals and 160 points. In his rookie season, Sakic overcame a tragic bus accident that killed four of his teammates and finished the season with 60 goals and 133 points, earning WHL player of the year and rookie of the year honours.
8. He once jerseyed Father Time.
Sakic had six 100-point campaigns in his NHL career, but none more impressive than his final one in 2006-07. At age 37, Sakic became the second-oldest player in NHL history to hit the century mark when he finished the season with 36 goals and 64 assists, trailing only Gordie Howe, who completed the feat at age 40.
9. He was a lover not a fighter, but he still fought – twice.
Sakic will never be remembered for his fearsome right jab, but as is the case with every hockey player, there comes a time when the mitts must be dropped. The Lady Byng winner threw down twice in his NHL career, the first against Toronto’s Gary Leeman in his sophomore season. The second came in a memorable encounter with Doug Gilmour.
10. He thrived under pressure.
No player in NHL history has been more clutch with a playoff game on the line than Sakic. His eight overtime goals are the most in NHL playoffs history, two more than runner-up Maurice Richard scored. His 19 playoff game-winning goals are good for second on the all-time list, behind Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull, who have 24 apiece.
11. He almost became a member of the New York Rangers.
Desperate to fill the void left by Mark Messier’s departure in 1997, the Rangers signed Sakic to a three-year offer sheet worth $21 million. Colorado would have received five first-round draft picks as compensation but decided to retain the face of their franchise instead. Smart move.
12. He has a $1-million swing.
Sakic finished his career with two Stanley Cups, a Hall of Fame legacy and more gold than Mr. T, but that all pales in comparison to the once-in-a-lifetime feat of stroking a hole in one.
Well, maybe not. But it’s still a fine accomplishment — especially when it’s worth a cool $1 million.