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When the playoff game went to overtime, you always felt confident if you had Joe Sakic in the winning-goal pool.
Or if he was on your team.
His NHL-record eight overtime playoff goals don't do justice as a summary of his career but probably are the right place to start, because they always were the sort that brought his teammates off the bench, whooping, racing -- and there would be No. 19, about to be in the middle or at the bottom of a mob.
The Avalanche captain, who will officially announce his retirement Thursday, caused those celebrations; he didn't lead them. With speed, an uncanny ability to minimize the impact of hits and attention, a sneaky wrist shot that drew involuntary shakes of the head no matter how many times you saw it, and an aura of leadership that required no bombast, pulpit or even many words, Sakic was (and still is) the face of hockey in Colorado. One of the compliments to him is that so many of his signature moments or images involve team accomplishments of which he was an indispensable part.
At retirement, he is 14th in career goals (625) and eighth in points (1,641). The other half of the Avalanche's onetime peerless center combination, Peter Forsberg, couldn't be knocked off the puck and took over games. Patrick Roy made the money saves. Sakic's two-way game was as much about the "C" near his shoulder and an unpretentious yet commanding aura as it was about the numbers he produced.
Picking the top 10 moments of anyone's NHL career is unavoidably subjective, producing "Well, what about " reactions. This is designed to be a cross-section:
It was June 1996, and the Avalanche had just won Denver's first major league championship. The Broncos' two Super Bowl championships followed in 1998 and 1999, and the city set a precedent for how to handle the parade and celebration.
Five years later, when the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup for the second time, tradition dictated that Sakic approach commissioner Gary Bettman and accept the most famous trophy in North American sports.
Yet it was a touch pass, and Sakic immediately delivered it to Ray Bourque, who had waited so long -- and so hungrily -- for the opportunity to raise it overhead. The most impressive thing? Not for one second did it come off as a calculated, grandstanding move on Sakic's part. He just did it. Not because anyone would say, "What a great guy!" Not because he knew the world was watching. He just did it because it was the classy thing to do.
But he didn't stop there.
Among his eight overtime playoff goals, none was bigger than the one in the third extra period of Game 4 against the Blackhawks in the most entertaining playoff series Colorado has ever played -- the 1996 Western Conference semifinals against, among others, Ed Belfour, Jeremy Roenick and Chris Chelios. Sakic deflected in an Alexei Gusarov shot, and the Avalanche evened the series at 2 on the road. Patrick Roy's infamous remarks about not being able to hear Roenick -- blatantly hauled down in overtime by Sandis Ozolinsh without either a penalty or penalty shot called -- because of his Stanley Cup rings plugging his ears came the next day.
Sakic finished the postseason with 18 goals, only one short of the league record held by Reggie Leach and Jari Kurri, and his six playoff game-wining goals were a record at the time. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy. "You dream about this moment, and it's unbelievable," Sakic said in the early morning hours after the marathon Game 4 against Florida in the Cup finals secured the Avalanche sweep. "We've come such a long way in this organization, from the time we started rebuilding in Quebec."
|Joe Sakic started his career in Quebec before the franchise moved to Colorado after the 1994-95 season.|
Sakic said of Dingman: "He told me before the game it was going to come in the second period, when we had our first shift together. You're gonna have to talk to him. He's the genius." Also, Sakic's standard line was that most of his assists came on rebounds.
His 1,500th point came on Oct. 25, 2006, when he assisted on Andrew Brunette's goal against Washington. He was the 11th player to reach that milestone.
On Feb. 15, 2007, he became the 17th player in NHL history to reach 600, scoring an empty-netter in the finals seconds of a 7-5 win at Calgary. "It feels good, especially after an important win," Sakic said. "When you look back, you probably wouldn't want to do it on an empty net, but I had no choice." By the end of the season, he had 100 points, joining Gordie Howe as the only players to reach that at age 37 or older.
It didn't take long.Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. His books include "Third Down and a War to Go" and the upcoming "The Witch's Season." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.