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Joseph Steve Sakic (born July 7, 1969 in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada) is a professional hockey player who is the captain of the Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League. One of the most successful players ever, Sakic is known for having won two Stanley Cups, various NHL trophies and being named to play in 13 NHL All-Star Games, as well as one of the strongest team leaders to ever play in the NHL. He is the 9th all-time points leader in the NHL as well as 14th in all-time goals and 11th in all-time assists. During his eighteen year professional career, the three time Olympian has been one of the most productive forwards in the game, having twice scored fifty goals and earning at least 100 points in six different seasons. Sakic has also been named the MVP of the league, chosen as such by both hockey writers and his fellow players.
Joe Sakic was born and raised in Burnaby to Marijan, his father, and Slavica, his mother, who were Croatian immigrants from the former Yugoslavia. Sakic didn't speak English until he entered kindergarten, instead speaking Croatian. It would later lead to Sakic being a quiet individual later in life. Growing up as the child of immigrants, Sakic had to work hard at everything he strived for, a trait that he would later bring into his hockey career. As a smaller hockey player, he was forced to use his skills, not size, to perform, modeling himself after his idol, Wayne Gretzky.
He is a fan favorite in the Burnaby region enough so that a street in Burnaby has been named "Joe Sakic Way" in his honour. In British Columbia, his home province, he is affectionately known as "Burnaby Joe," reflecing on his hometown; to people in Colorado, he is simply known as "Super Joe." His younger brother, Brian, who was a member of the Swift Current Broncos in Joe's final season, would also be drafted into the NHL, but wound up never making it, only making it as far as playing center for the Flint Generals in the United Hockey League.
Joe met his wife, Debbie, at the local high school while playing in Swift Current. They now return to the town every summer, as Debbie still has family in the area. They have three children: Mitchell and twins Chase and Kamryn. Each summer, he hosts a charity golf tournament to benefit the Colorado Food Bank.
After showing exceptional promise as a young hockey player in Burnaby, there were some calls that Sakic was a new Wayne Gretzky in the making. After scoring eighty-three goals and 156 points in only eighty games in Burnaby, he was added to the Lethbridge Broncos of the Western Hockey League for the last part of the 1985-86 season.
In 1986-87 the Broncos relocated to Swift Current, Saskatchewan, becoming the Swift Current Broncos. Joe, playing in his first full season, was named Rookie of the Year of the WHL. He notched sixty goals and seventy-three assists for 133 points. The next year, 1987–88, Joe was the WHL Player of the Year and Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year scoring 160 points (78 goals, 82 assists).
During the 1986-87 WHL season, Sakic was involved in one of the worst tragedies to ever happen in the CHL. The night of December 30, 1986, the Broncos were driving to a game against the Regina Pats. Due to the bad weather, the driver lost control on a patch of black ice outside of Swift Current, and the bus crashed. While Sakic was unharmed, four of his teammates (Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff) were killed. This incident had a lasting impact on the young Sakic, who has declined to talk about the crash during his career.
Sakic was drafted 15th overall by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. Rather than make the immediate jump to the NHL, Sakic spent a final year in Swift Current, winning the WHL scoring title and being named CHL Player of the Year. He made his NHL debut in October 6, 1988 against the Hartford Whalers and scored an assist. His first goal came two days later against goaltender Sean Burke of the New Jersey Devils. He finished the season with 62 points in 70 games.
In 1989-90, his second NHL season, Sakic earned the title of captain and scored more than 100 points in the NHL for the first time, with his 102 points good enough to place him ninth overall in the league. He again passed the century mark in in 1990-91, improving to 109 points and sixth, but would slip during 1991-92 to 94 points, partly as a result of missing eleven games. Early on in the season, Sakic first proved himself as the leader of the team, commenting on the Eric Lindros situation. While Lindros was busy holding out against the Nordiques, who were again doing poorly. When asked about Lindros, Sakic stated, "We only want players here who have the passion to play the game. I'm tired of hearing that name. He's not here and there are a lot of others in this locker room who really care about the game." During these first four seasons with Joe Sakic, the Nordiques franchise always finished the last in their division and finished last in the league three straight years, from 1989 to 1991.
Starting with the 1992-93, Joe Sakic became the sole captain of the franchise and under his leadership, the Nordiques made the playoffs for the first time in six years, setting a franchise record for wins and points in the process. He scored 105 points in the regular season and six points in the playoffs. While Sakic managed to reach the 100 point plateau again in 1993-94 with forty-eight goals and 105 points, the Nordiques failed to make the playoffs. After missing part of the 1994-95 season due to a lockout, Sakic had his best finish of his career, placing fourth overall, and the Nordiques managed to win the Northeast Division title.
In June 1995, the Quebec Nordiques announced that they had been sold and were leaving Quebec. At the start of 1995-96 NHL season, the franchise moved to Denver, Colorado and was renamed the Colorado Avalanche. Sakic led the revamped team to win the Stanley Cup for the first time, scoring an amazing 120 points in 82 regular season games and 34 points in 22 playoff games. He was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the 1996 NHL playoffs.
It was during the 1996 playoffs that Sakic again proved himself to be an effective team leader. Though he had missed the playoffs in five of his first seven years in the NHL, Sakic dominated the entire playffs, scoring eighteen goals, including six game-winners, and thirty-four points. He was one goal off from the record for goals in a playoff year, and his game-winning goals established a new record.
The Avalanche didn't repeat as Stanley Cup champions in 1996-97 partly due to both Sakic and teammate Peter Forsberg missing significant time due to injury. Sakic only played in sixty-five games due to a lacerated calf, yet still managed to score seventy-four points as the Avalanche earned their first President's Trophy and third straight division title.
As a free agent during the summer of 1997, Sakic signed a three year, $21 million offer with the New York Rangers while an unrestricted free agent. Under the collective bargaining agreement of the time, the Avalanche had one week to match the Ranger's offer or let go of Sakic. Colorado would match the offer, helping to raise the salaries of all NHL players.
Injuries would again limit Sakic's playing time in the 1997-98 season. While playing in his first Olympics, Sakic hurt his knee and was forced to miss eighteen games with the Avalanche. In the sixty-four games he did play in, he still scored sixty-three points, enough to play in his seventh All-Star Game. He would finally rebound from his injury problems for the 1998-99 season, finishing fifth in the league in scoring with forty-one goals and ninety-six points in only seventy-three games, and leading the Avalanche all the way to within one game of the Stanley Cup finals.
During the 1999-00 season, Sakic reached several career milestones. Injuries again limited him to only sixty games, but he still managed to lead the team in scoring with eighty-one points. On December 27, 1999 against the St. Louis Blues, Sakic earned an assist to become just the fifty-sixth player in NHL history to reach 1,000 career points. Later in the season, on March 23, 2000, he scored a hat trick against the Phoenix Coyotes, becoming the fifty-ninth player to score 400 career goals. It also gave him 1,049 points with the Quebec/Colorado franchise, passing Peter Stastny as the all-time leader on the team.
Sakic would once again score 100 points in a regular season again, finishing with 118 along with a career best fifty-four goals during 2000-01, with the Colorado Avalanche winning the Stanley Cup for the second time. Sakic's efforts paid off when he was named the recipient of the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL's Most Valuable Player, the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for gentlemanly conduct and the Lester B. Pearson Award as the league's most outstanding player voted by his peers. After the Avalanche had defeated the New Jersey Devils in the 2001 finals in 7 games, Sakic, as captain, received the Cup. Instead of hoisting it high, he passed it straight to Ray Bourque, a player who had waited a record-breaking 22 seasons to win the Stanley Cup.
The 2001-02 season saw Sakic again lead the Avalanche in scoring, and finished sixth in the league with seventy-nine points. On March 9, 2002, he played in his 1,000th career game. The Avalanche once again reached the Western Conference Finals, but lost to the eventual Cup winner Detroit Red Wings. The following year Sakic appeared in only fifty-eight games, and finished with just fifty-eight points, the lowest total of his career. He rebounded the following year, finishing third in the league with eighty-seven points. It also marked the first time since the 1993-94 season that his team did not win the division title, losing out to the Vancouver Canucks.
Following the lockout, the Avalanche was forced to lose many of its key players in order to stay below the salary cap. Even with the loss of teammates Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote, Sakic still helped lead the Avalanche into the playoffs with eighty-seven points.
In June 2006, Sakic signed a one-year, $5.75 million US deal to keep him with the Avalanche for the 2006-07 season. Upon the retirement of Steve Yzerman a month later, on July 3, 2006, Sakic became the league leader for points scored among active players.
During the 2006-07 season, Sakic had another outstanding season. He scored his 600th career goal on February 15, 2007 against the Calgary Flames, becoming the seventeenth player in history to reach the milestone and third that year. On the final day of the regular season, he scored his 100th point, reaching the milestone for the sixth time in his career. At the same time, Sakic became the second-oldest NHL player to score 100 points in a season at age 37, next to hockey legend Gordie Howe.
In April 2007, Sakic signed on for a 19th NHL season with the Colorado Avalanche franchise, signing a one-year deal for the 2007-08 season. Sakic commented on the deal, saying "at this stage in my career, I prefer to do one-year deals as I evaluate my play year-to-year."
Sakic has been called one of the best leaders in hockey. Even with his quiet personality, throughout his entire career Sakic has been able to motivate his team to play at a winning level. Upon signing Sakic to a new contract in 2007, Avalanche General Manager Francois Giguere said, "Joe is the heart of this organization and his leadership and value to this team and especially our young players is unquestioned."
Throughout his career, Sakic has been known for his prolific offensive skills and has been considered by many to have the best wrist shot in the NHL. It is with this excellent skill that he has managed to be one of the highest scoring players in the history of the NHL.
Records and achievements
Sakic has had an extensive international hockey career. After being drafted by the Nordiques in 1987, he went on and helped Canada win the 1988 World Junior Championship. The next tournament for Sakic was the 1991 World Championships. Canada managed a silver medal out of the tournament with Sakic contributing eleven points in ten games. He tried out for the 1991 Canada Cup Canadian team, but was the first player to be cut, the team citing his weak leg strength.
The first championship for Sakic as a professional occurred in the 1994 World Championships when Canada won its first gold medal in the tournament since 1961, helped by Sakic's seven points in eight games.
During the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, Sakic played a minor role in Canada's second place finish, only managing one goal and two assists in six games. However the tournament allowed him to showcase that he was indeed a dominant player who had simply been ignored before.
The 1998 Winter Olympics allowed NHL players to compete for the first time, allowing for Sakic to make his Olympics debut. Only managing three points in four games, Sakic injured his knee and was part of a Canadian team that failed expectations and finished fourth.
Sakic's second Olympic appearance came in the 2002 Winter Olympics. He had 2 goals and 2 assists in Canada's gold medal win over Team USA in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and was named its MVP. He also played a part in Canada's triumph in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, scoring six points in six games.
On December 21, 2005, Sakic was named captain of Team Canada for the 2006 Winter Olympics. It marked his third trip to the Olympics, having played in the Nagano and Salt Lake City games, winning the gold in Salt Lake city. At Turin, Sakic captained the heavily favoured Team Canada, scoring one goal and two assists in six games but Canada failed to medal, finishing seventh overall.
Joe Sakic was named to play the NHL All-Star Game for 13 times and played in 12 of them, having scored at least one point in 11 games. He was named Most Valuable Player in 2004. He is the all-time assist leader in all-star games with 16 assists and is third place in all-time all-star scoring, with 22 points, trailing only Mario Lemieux (23 points) and Wayne Gretzky (25 points). His best record in an All-Star game was in 2007, where he scored 4 assists, but still was not selected for MVP in favour of Daniel Brière.
STRENGTHS: Owns one of the league's best wrist shots. Patient passer who excels on the power play. Has smooth skating ability and crafty playmaking skills. Sees the ice extremely well and is rarely out of position. Plays with tremendous desire and determination at all times. One of the best clutch players in NHL history.
WEAKNESSES: Has always had to overcome a lack of size. Can slow down when used too frequently. Isn't as prolific as he used to be.