Over the next 24 hours, the words "classy" and "respected" will be the two most used words in describing Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic. A few hours from now, Sakic will announce his retirement as Adrian Dater confirmed on Tuesday, hanging up his skates after an illustrious 20 year National Hockey League career that includes two Stanley Cup titles, a Conn Smythe, Hart, Lady Byng, and Pearson Trophy, an Olympic gold medal, twelve All-Star Games, and 625 goals. He will get the call for the Hockey Hall of Fame three years from now and probably wind up with a front office position with the Avalanche.
He was a true gentleman in the sport, never putting himself above the team and one of the few remaining athletes that have spent their entire careers with a single franchise. He assumed co-captain duties during the 1990-91 season and took over the role on a full-time basis at the start of the 1992-93 campaign.
Whether or not the next Colorado captain is someone like Adam Foote, Milan Hejduk, John-Michael Liles, or even Paul Stastny, they will have large shoes to fill and no matter what they do, they'll never come close to what Sakic meant to that franchise.
Mike Chen over at Kukla's Korner pays tribute to the respect that Sakic received all around the hockey world, even from the most hated of rival fans:
"With Sakic, there was always a line of respect. Even as he captained their (Detroit's) greatest rival, you knew he did it with class, and while my friend could get upset about the result, he never got to the point of hate.
I know it's easier to spew sports hate these days thanks to message boards, blogs, etc.-just look at the war of words between Penguins fans and Caps fans about how Crosby is this or Ovechkin is that. I wonder if we had that ten years ago, what would be said between Avs fans and Red Wings fans about their bitter rivalry? I like to think that most of the folks involved would feel that same level of respect for Sakic that my roommate did-he hated what Sakic accomplished because he was so damn good but he couldn't find reason to hate the man himself. Sakic's class act simply rose above that."
Jamie Samuelsen, sports radio personality via the Detroit Free Press echoes Chen's sentiment about the all-around respect Sakic garnered from opponents and fans:
"Sakic was almost in a league of his own. He was a good, clean player who played the game the right way. He always seemed to be above the violence in the Avs-Wings rivalry. And it didn't hurt that he was the Captain and wore No.19, both made him ridiculously easy for Wings fans to attach themselves too. I'm not saying that any of the Red and White were cheering for Sakic on any occasion, but if he went on a retirement tour the way Dr. J did back in the 80s, he'd get a huge ovation at the Joe for being a worthy, clean, respected rival."
David from Mile High Hockey reminds us that despite the showmanship that has crept into the sports world, Sakic was not about himself:
"I'm a relatively quiet guy. I tend towards boisterous and gregarious when with family and friends, but, among more casual acquaintances, I tend to keep to myself and I don't really like to talk about myself in any situation. I think that's what I've admired the most about Super Joe. He's one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the league, but he's not a fist pump type of guy. He just played the game. He didn't spend the game chirping at refs or other players, he didn't talk himself up to the press, he didn't get caught in hotel rooms with a couple of hookers and a bunch of blow. He just went out and kicked ass every night, quickly raising his stick when the team scored and that was that."
Over at his blog, Puck Daddy commenter Jibblescribbits remembers the other hockey skills Sakic possessed other than his sweet wrist shot:
"Only talking about the wrist shot is almost insulting, because he was so much more than that. He was a superb 2-way center, who never got nearly enough credit for his defensive adeptness. He was a great teammate who could pass nearly as well as he could shoot. His steady hand guided the Avs to multiple Cups and a plethora of successful seasons. And he was the classiest athlete I have ever seen."
Date revisits a blog he wrote back on April 9 when it was learned Sakic would not be back for the final weekend of the 2008-09 season:
Joe Sakic was, quite possibly, the most amazingly consistent player AND person I've ever come across. He got his point-a-game for 20 straight NHL seasons. Think about that, and how hard that is (it is).
"Now think about how much harder it is to stay on an emotional even keel every night in those 20 years, with media bothering you every night, dozens of fans EVERY DAY wanting something from you - a signature here, a quick cell phone pic there. Now add on the pressures of playing on a team expected to win a Stanley Cup ever year, the pressures that come to a guy making almost $11 million a year, three kids, a wife, and you still got....a guy who was just amazingly even-keeled."
Mike Brophy of Sportsnet recalls Sakic's career all about him speaking softly and carrying a big stick:
"When I think about the classiest players who ever played in the NHL, Sakic is right at the top of the list. He probably didn't say 10 words during his illustrious 20-year career, instead allowing his actions to speak for him. And what his actions said loud and clear was Joe Sakic was a tireless worker and leader who never took a night off. The two-time Stanley Cup winner and three-time first team all-star won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP in 2001 and was a key member of many Canadian teams in international competition. Perhaps I am being greedy, but I really hoped to squeeze one more season out of The Quiet One."
Ryan Dixon at The Hockey News says that "Burnaby Joe" might not have been the most vocal of captains, he led by example:
"But occasionally playing second fiddle likely suited a person with Sakic's modest demeanor just fine. And let's be clear about this: while others took their turn calling Colorado's shots, Sakic should and will be remembered as the team's leading man. When you've got eight career playoff overtime time goals - more than any player in NHL history - it's safe to assume you're equipped to deal with the expectant glare of teammates."