The Centennial Soapbox

Sometimes life just sucks. That's the unfortunate reality of sports. Whether your favorite team goes through a dry spell or the time comes to say goodbye to a legend of the game, it's just no fun. These are trying times for fans of the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs are coming off of what was by far the franchise's worst season in 15 in Colorado. Fan favorite Ian Lapperriere had to be let go in free agency as a financial casualty. We thought that it couldn't get any worse. Then I saw this headline on a short while ago: Joe Sakic to retire from Avalanche.

That's right. Super Joe. Burnaby Joe. Our Captain. #19. After 20 seasons, 625 goals, 1016 assists, 614 penalties in minutes, 2 Stanley Cups, 1 Hart Trophy, and a Conn Smythe trophy on his resume, Joe Sakic is retiring from the NHL. Words cannot begin to express how tough that news is to take for this Avs die-hard.

I first fell in love with hockey in the 1994-1995 season. The International Hockey League gave Denver its first taste of professional hockey since the Colorado Rockies defected to New Jersey to become the Devils in the 1980's. That season, the Denver Grizzlies won the championship of the IHL, and everyone thought that McNichol's Sports Arena - "Big Mac", as it was known - would have a second winter tenant for years to come. That stay only lasted one year, though, as the National Hockey League announced that COMSAT Entertainment Group had purchased the Quebec Nordiques, and that the team would be moving to Denver in the following season. Just like that, it was on to Utah for the Grizzlies, and the team that would come to be known as the Colorado Avalanche rolled into town.

Every Avalanche fan - well, every hockey fan - has nothing but great memories from Super Joe. One that stands out in the minds of Avalanche fans is our first memory of Joe Sakic. Many hockey fans don't know that the Avalanche weren't supposed to be known as the Avalanche. Originally, the team was going to be named "Rocky Mountain Extreme". Denver hockey fans caught wind of this and made sure that it wouldn't happen. A fan contest was later held, and "Colorado Avalanche" was selected from the entrants. When the team was first introduced in Colorado, Avs players, including Sakic, wore generic t-shirts that said simply "Colorado NHL" on the front of them, as the team didn't yet have a name. Colorado governor Roy Romer referred to Super Joe as "Joe Kasic". As he always has, Sakic just gave a little half-smile and laughed it off. All that can be said about it is, "That's Joe."

I've said before that Peter Forsberg was always my favorite player to watch. Sakic is close behind him, though, and Super Joe's legacy will always outshine Peter the Great's legacy. The two players were always such a treat to watch. Through the years, we've had some great athletes in Denver. John Elway will always rule this region. Todd Helton is close to the top. Alex English put the Nuggets on the NBA map. It's impossible to say that any of them are greater than Joe Sakic, though.

Never has there been another athlete that managed to conceal his own greatness, even though it played out every night while the game was going on. Part of the allure of Sakic is his down-to-earth nature (many media members came to know him as "Quoteless Joe"). Even by hockey standards, he never was an interesting interview. He would just go out and produce, and he would come through at the most opportune times. I would defy anyone to find a better offensive player in the clutch than Joe Sakic in the history of the NHL. His 8 overtime goals in the Playoffs are a record. Whenever the Avalanche have needed a goal over the years, it has been Joe Sakic that would put the puck in the net.

Not lost on Avalanche fans in Colorado is the fact that Joe and Debbie Sakic have donated countless hours and millions of dollars to local charities, as well as Children's Hospital in Denver. Sakic holds an annual charity golf tournament to benefit Food Bank of the Rockies. While Joe Sakic will be remembered as one of the greatest players that the NHL has ever seen, he should be remembered more for being one of the best people that the sports world has ever seen. He's always been just a class act, both on and off the ice.

News of Sakic's retirement hit hard today, and it will surely hit hard with the folks in Canada, as the 2010 Olympic Games are in Sakic's hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, and he was a virtual lock to captain Team Canada. Unfortunately, we won't get the opportunity to see that happen. We will always have the memories of #19 on the ice, and his legacy will always live on in Denver.

Thanks for giving us the best years of your life, Super Joe. We'll miss you.


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