Sakic, Joe

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Joe Sakic

1969-

Canadian hockey player

Champion hockey player Joe Sakic has earned respect as a quiet leader and a skillful player with a

talent for stealth and a lightning-quick wrist. From his childhood in Canada, the son of Croatian immigrants, to his 2002 standing as one of the most highly paid, award-winning players in the National Hockey League (NHL), Sakic has followed his father's strict work ethic. He discovered his natural leadership ability after a tragic accident involving his high school hockey team in 1986. Sakic is honored for his kindness, loyalty to his team, and humble nature. A longtime center and team captain with the Colorado Avalanche, Sakic has led his team to two Stanley Cups.

Young Star

Joseph Steven Sakic was born July 7, 1969, in the Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, suburb of Burnaby, the son of Croatian immigrants Marijan, a carpenter and commercial fisherman, and Slavica Sakic, a homemaker. Before Joe started school, his family spoke only Croatian at home. Learning English a little later than other students, combined with a natural shyness, probably caused him to develop the economy of words he is known for today, particularly around reporters.

Many promising young Canadian hockey players left their hometowns to play major junior hockey. Sakic and two teammates moved to Saskatchewan to play with the Swift Current Broncos when Joe was seventeen. The players lived with host families and attended Swift Current Comprehensive High School. There Joe met Debbie Metivier, who would become his wife a few years later.

Tragedy at Swift Current

When Sakic was in his first year at Swift Current, the hockey team was traveling to a game in Regina on December 30, 1986, when it hit a patch of black ice on a highway overpass and plunged to the service road below. Four of Sakic's teammateswho had been playing cards in the back of the buswere killed. Joe, who was unhurt, and his some of his teammates walked out the bus's broken front window. As the Broncos continued the season in memory of their lost teammates, Sakic came forward as a natural leader. Earning sixty goals and seventy-three assists, he helped the team make the playoffs and pulled his teammates through an emotionally difficult time.

Small for his age, at 5' 11" and 185 pounds, Sakic was the fifteenth pick for the Quebec Nordiques draft in the spring of 1987, but he chose to stay another year in junior hockey with Swift Current to strengthen his upper body and perhaps the spirits of his teammates as well. He finished the season with seventy-eight goals and eighty-two assists and was named Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year. The next day, he signed a contract with the Nordiques.

When Sakic joined the Nordiques in 1988, they were in a slump due to financial problems and management troubles. Although he scored more than 100 points twice during the next four years, the Nordiques did not make the playoffs until 1992-93, the season he was made team captain. Suddenly, sportswriters and the public began to take notice.

Colorado Avalanche

Sakic was the Nordiques' top scorer in 1995, when the team finished second in a season shortened by a players' strike. On June 21 of that year, the team moved to Denver, Colorado, and changed its name to the Colorado Avalanche. Sakic scored fifty-one goals, sixty-nine assists, and 120 points in the 1995-96 season, and the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup. Sakic was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player on his team in the playoffs. He had scored eighteen goals and sixteen assists in twenty-two games.

On receiving the Stanley Cup, Sakic held it up to the 450,000 Colorado fans. He later said, "There is no greater satisfaction than winning the Cup just thinking about it makes me speechless."

Chronology

1969 Born July 7 in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
1985 Begins playing hockey with Lethbridge Broncos
1986 Plays with Canadian National Team
1986 Leaves home to play hockey with Swift Current Broncos in Saskatchewan and attend Swift Current Comprehensive High School; bus accident on the way to a game on December 30 leaves four team members dead
1988 Joins Quebec Nordiques after being the fifteenth pick in National Hockey League (NHL) draft
1989 Adopts jersey number 19
1992 Is named team captain of the Nordiques; gets four-year, $8.8 million contract
1993 Nordiques make playoffs for first time in six seasons; marries Debbie Metivierthey will have a son, Mitchell, and twins Chase and Kamryn
1995 Nordiques finish second overall in NHL's strike-shortened season; in June, team moves to Denver, Colorado, and changes name to Colorado Avalanche
1996 Colorado Avalanche wins Stanley Cup championship
1997 Is injured in January and misses seventeen games; Colorado Avalanche finishes first overall in NHL regular season but is defeated in playoffs by the Detroit Red Wings
1997 In August, the New York Rangers offer Sakic, now a free agent, a $15 million signing bonus plus $2 million a year for three years; Colorado Avalanche matches the offer
1998 With eight other Avalanche players, is chosen to participate in Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan; is named captain of the Canadian team but is injured and misses last two games
1999 Scores 1,000th point on December 27
2000 Nets 400th goal on March 23
2001 Leads Avalanche to a second Stanley Cup Championship; signs five-year, $50.5 million contract with Colorado Avalanche in late June, just before scheduled to become a free agent on July 1
2002 Plays on Team Canada in 2002 Olympics

Related Biography: Hockey Player Peter Forsberg

As second-line center and left wing to Joe Sakic's first-line center, Peter Forsberg helps make the Colorado Avalanche a formidable team. Sakic and Forsberg have tied as the two best players in the NHL, and, although opposite in temperament, they complement one another on the ice.

Austin Murphy of Sports Illustrated compared Sakic and Forsberg to Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier of the Edmonton Oilers. Forsberg's name became a household word in his native Sweden during the mid-1990s. There, he is considered the equivalent of basketball star Michael Jordan in the United States.

Peter Forsberg was born July 20, 1973, in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, the son of hockey coach Kent Forsberg and Gudrun Forsberg. He began playing hockey at an early age and was a member of the MoDo Hockey Club in the Swedish Elite League as a teenager. Even then, he showed remarkable skill and competitiveness in the game. By 1993-94 he was named Swedish League player of the year. He was picked for the NHL's 1991 entry draft by the Philadelphia Flyers but waited to accept the contract until he could further develop his skills. In 1992, the Flyers traded him to the Quebec Nordiques. In 1994, Forsberg played in the Lillehammer, Norway, Winter Olympics, and his team became the first Swedish team to win the gold medal. Forsberg's final shot against Canada's Paul Kariya won the game, and Sweden issued a postage stamp featuring Forsberg and the team.

In 1994-95 with the Nordiques, Forsberg was named Rookie of the Year by the NHL and won the Calder Memorial Award. He moved to Denver, Colorado, when the Nordiques became the Avalanche and began playing with Sakic. The team won the Stanley Cup that year, with Forsberg scoring ten postseason goals. He brought the Cup to Sweden for the first time in history. He also helped the Avalanche to a second Stanley Cup in 2000-2001. Forsberg missed the regular season in 2001-2002 while recovering from a spleen operation and ankle surgeries but was back for the playoffs and led all scorers with twenty-seven points in twenty games.

The Avalanche had another great season in 1996-97, finishing first overall and winning the President's Trophy, in spite of injuries that kept Sakic and second-line center Peter Forsberg out of seventeen games. Sakic was playing well again by the playoffs, however, and the team had a winning streak before falling prey to the Detroit Red Wings.

Worth a Fortune

In the off-season of 1997, Sakic became a restricted free agent. He could entertain contract offers from other teams, but the Avalanche had the right to match any contract in order to keep him. In August the New York Rangers offered him a $21 million contract$2 million per year for three years, with a $15 million signing bonus. A few days later, the Avalanche matched the offer, to the relief of Denver fans. Commenting on the generous contract, Sakic told a Denver Post writer, "I don't think I'm going to feel any more pressure than I have in the past. I've always been one to put pressure on myself and do whatever I can to help the team win." Only one sore spot had come between Sakic and Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix: Sakic wanted a "no-trade" clause in his contract, providing him with a place on the team regardless of his success, but Lacroix did not believe in them.

In 1997, Sakic promised the team and the fans another Stanley Cup, but it was a few seasons in coming. The Avalanche came in sixth overall that year in regular play. Several members, including Sakic, had participated in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan. In addition, a knee injury had kept Sakic out of eighteen games in the regular season that year. In the 1998-99 season, he was out several games with a shoulder injury, but he still scored a team-best forty-one goals in seventy-three games, and the team made the playoffs.

In 1999-2000, Sakic played only sixty games, but the team went to the playoffs and he was invited to his eighth All-Star game. The following season, 2000-2001, brought the long-promised second Stanley Cup for the Colorado Avalanche. Sakic scored 118 points during the season, with twelve game-winning goals out of a total of fifty-four. He scored twenty-six points against the New Jersey Devils in the final game of the playoffs, making him the NHL's top scorer. He showed his true team spirit when he briefly held the Stanley Cup up for the cameras then promptly handed it to retiring defenseman Ray Bourque, while applauding him.

Team Commitment

As the July 1, 2001, deadline approached for Sakic to become an unrestricted free agent, Lacroix remained hopeful that Sakic would stay with his team. In a suspenseful last-minute signing, Sakic and teammates Patrick Roy and Rob Blake made a commitment to stay in Denver. Sakic's five-year contract was for $50.5 million, with an optional sixth year making it $57 million. The top salary for the previous single season in the NHL had been $10 million. Lacroix said in Sports Illustrated of the signing, "To have athletes like Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy, and Rob Blake commit themselves to this organization and market before having a chance to be an unrestricted free agent indicates how special they are and how equally special this city and hockey environment is." The Denver fans had indeed showed their appreciation: the Avalanche's home games were sold out 295 consecutive times, including playoffs, since 1995.

Since re-signing with the Avalanche, Sakic has continued to work toward making the team the consistent best in the NHL. He scored a total of seventy-nine points during the 2001-2002 season and again played with Team Canada at the Olympics, where he scored four goals and three assists in six games.

Career Statistics

Yr Team GP G A PTS +/ PIM SOG SPCT PPG SHG
AVAL: Colorado Avalanche; NORD: Quebec Nordiques.
1988-89 NORD 70 23 39 62 -36 24 148 15.5 10 0
1989-90 NORD 80 39 63 102 -40 27 234 16.7 8 1
1990-91 NORD 80 48 61 109 -26 24 245 19.6 12 3
1991-92 NORD 69 29 65 94 5 20 217 13.4 6 3
1992-93 NORD 78 48 57 105 -3 40 264 18.2 20 2
1993-94 NORD 84 28 64 92 -8 18 279 10.0 10 1
1994-95 NORD 47 19 43 62 7 30 157 12.1 3 2
1995-96 AVAL 82 51 69 120 14 44 339 15.0 17 6
1996-97 AVAL 65 22 52 74 -10 34 261 8.4 10 2
1997-98 AVAL 64 27 36 63 0 50 254 10.6 12 1
1998-99 AVAL 73 41 55 96 23 29 255 16.1 12 5
1999-2000 AVAL 60 28 53 81 30 28 242 11.6 5 1
2000-2001 AVAL 82 54 64 118 45 30 332 16.3 19 3
2001-2002 AVAL 82 26 53 79 12 18 260 10.0 9 1
TOTAL 1016 483 774 1257 13 416 3487 13.9 153 31

Cultivating his quiet leadership ability, Sakic has become not only one of the most respected players in the league but also one of the most admired team captains. His numerous awards and generous contracts speak for his value as a player, and his steadfast loyalty to the Avalanche shows his dedication to the principle that winning is a team effort. He once told Sporting News, "Pressure is part of the game. But I don't worry about it. I just go out and play the game as hard as I can."

Awards and Accomplishments

Conn Smythe Trophy is given to NHL's most valuable player for his team in the playoffs
Stanley Cup is NHL hockey's championship award, given following a best-of-seven-games series between Eastern and Western Conference champions
Hart Memorial Trophy is awarded to NHL's most valuable player to his team
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy goes to player with best sportsmanship and most gentlemanly conduct, with high level of playing ability
Lester B. Pearson Trophy is awarded to the NHL's outstanding player as selected by the members of the NHL Player's Association
1987 Western Hockey League (WHL) East Most Valuable Player; WHL Stewart (Butch) Paul Memorial Trophy; WHL All-Star Second Team
1988 Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year; Four Broncos Memorial Trophy; Bob Clarke Trophy; Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year; WHL Player of the Year
1990-94, 1996, 1998, 2001 NHL All-Star Game
1994 Gold medal, World Hockey Championships
1996 As captain of Colorado Avalanche, team won Stanley Cup; Conn Smythe Trophy; NHL All-Star Game
1997 Avalanche won President's Trophy
1998 Ranked 15th best player in NHL by Hockey News ; participated in Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, with Canadian team
2000 NHL Player of the Month, November
2001 As captain of Colorado Avalanche, team won Clarence Campbell Bowl and Stanley Cup; named NHL's Most Valuable Player; Hart Trophy; Lady Byng Memorial Trophy; Lester B. Pearson Trophy; Bud Light Plus-Minus Award

CONTACT INFORMATION

Address: Joe Sakic, c/o Colorado Avalanche Hockey Club, Pepsi Center, 1000 Chopper Circle, Denver, CO 80204. Phone: 303-405-1100. Online: http://www.coloradoavalanche.com.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Newsmakers, Issue 1. "Joe Sakic." Detroit: Gale Group, 2002.

Periodicals

"Get the Man Some Silver Polish." Maclean's (June 25, 2001): 46.

Habib, Daniel G. "Colorado Avalanche: Having Peter Forsberg for a Full Season Makes a Formidable Team." Sports Illustrated (October 14, 2002): 84.

Murphy, Austin. "Two Much." Sports Illustrated (December 9, 1996): 50.

Wigge, Larry. "Sneaky Good: Joe Sakic Is All Action and No Talk." Sporting News (January 14, 2002): 52.

Wigge, Larry. "Teams Don't Let MVPs Walk, and Sakic Won't Either." Sporting News (April 30, 2001): 56.

Other

Biography Resource Center Online. http://galenet.galegroup.com/. "Joseph Steven Sakic." Detroit: Gale Group, 1999.

Biography Resource Center Online. http://galenet.galegroup.com/. "Peter Forsberg." Detroit: Gale Group, 1999.

CBS Sportsline. "No. 19 Joe Sakic." http://cbs.sportsline.com/ (November 1, 2002).

Colorado Avalanche. http://www.coloradoavalanche.com/ (November 18, 2002).

"Colorado's Joe Sakic Named NHL Player of the Week." Colorado Avalanche. http://www.coloradoavalanche.com/ (November 4, 2002).

"Free-Agent Avalanche: Champs Re-sign Stars Sakic, Roy, Blake on First Day." CNN Sports Illustrated. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/hockey/nhl/ (July 1, 2001).

Internet Hockey Database. "Joe Sakic." http://www.hockeydb.com/ (November 14, 2002).

Sketch by Ann H. Shurgin