Stoic Joe Sakic finally cracked, allowing for a rare show of emotion when he tearfully announced that after 20 seasons and 1,378 games with the same organization, he is done with professional hockey.
Delivering a speech that had kept him up most of the night fretting, the longtime Colorado Avalanche captain broke down, his voice betraying him as he stared into a room packed with family, friends and teammates -- even the governor of the state.
Try as he might, he simply couldn't get through his prepared speech without choking up.
"So many great memories," Sakic said, fighting back tears.
The pride of Burnaby, British Columbia, Sakic had hoped to play one more season, possibly culminating his career by suiting up for Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
His body simply wouldn't allow it.
Sakic missed most of the 2008-09 season with an aching back that required surgery to repair a herniated disk. He tried to make his way back onto the ice before the end of the season, but couldn't.
That's when he suspected his career was finished.
"I didn't think I could be the player I wanted to be," said Sakic, who turned 40 on Tuesday. He has been the face of the franchise since the team moved to Denver in 1995. "I always said to myself that the minute I thought I'd slipped, and not be the player I wanted to be, it was time for me to go."
Sakic announced his retirement in the same room of a Denver hotel where John Elway did. Only fitting, since both were icons in the Mile High City.
"We can't put into words what he meant to this franchise and to our hockey fans," said Avalanche president Pierre Lacroix, who also broke down into tears.
Sakic's No. 19 sweater will also be retired, getting raised to the Pepsi Center rafters during a ceremony at the season opener, which is not yet scheduled. It will be just the third in the 14-year history of the Avalanche, joining Patrick Roy (33) and Ray Bourque (77). The organization also retired four when they were the Quebec Nordiques.
"He's such a great leader. He made the team top-notch," Paul Stastny said.
But besides his innate talent which led the Avalanche to two Stanley Cups, it was his character that made him a true leader.
Sakic won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship in 2001, showing his true character by handing the Stanley Cup over to Bourque after winning the title and letting the longtime defenseman hoist the trophy.
It was a moment that friend and longtime teammate Adam Foote mentioned in his speech Thursday.
"A humble superstar that you are, you stood back, you let a gray-bearded, 22-year seasoned veteran, who was waiting patiently like a young boy on Christmas morning, hoist his first Stanley Cup," Foote said. "That class act of yours might go down in history as one of the NHL's most memorable moments that united the entire hockey world."
Lacroix, who choked up repeatedly when giving his speech, said Sakic waited to announce his retirement until Lacroix was healed following complications from a knee replacement surgery.
"My family and I are privileged to know you. We're better people because of that," Lacroix said. "You make everyone around you so much better."
Sakic's Storied Career Spans 20 Years
Sakic certainly had an impressive resume.
Sakic led the Avalanche to two Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001. The 1996 win was the city of Denver's first major professional sports championship.
Sakic wore the 'C' as team captain for 16 consecutive seasons (17 seasons overall), making him the second-longest serving captain in NHL history.
Sakic, known for his lethal wrist shot and precision passing, retires as the eighth-leading scorer in NHL history with 1,641 career points. He sits 14th all-time in goals (625) and 11th in assists (1,016).
He was never an intimidating presence -- he's only 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds -- but made up for it with determination and intelligence.
There are only four players in league history that have scored more points with one franchise than Sakic: Gordie Howe (1,809) and Steve Yzerman (1,755) with Detroit, Mario Lemieux with Pittsburgh (1,723) and Wayne Gretzky with Edmonton (1,669).
Sakic ranks seventh all-time in both playoff goals (84) and playoff points (188-tied), and holds the NHL record with eight postseason overtime goals.
"On behalf of KSE, the Colorado Avalanche and hockey fans around the world, I would personally like to thank Joe Sakic for the countless unforgettable memories he provided us on and off the ice over the past 20 years," said Avalanche owner E. Stanley Kroenke. "Joe represents all that is good about not only the Avalanche organization but professional sports in general. His leadership, sportsmanship and respect for the game of hockey are legendary. I have had the privilege of being associated with some of the worlds greatest athletes, and Joes record-setting accomplishments on the ice and his uncompromising commitment to community causes place him in a very elite group. We wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future."
Selected by the Quebec Nordiques in the first round (15th overall) of the 1987 Entry Draft, Sakic is the franchise's all-time leader in games played, goals, assists, points, power-play goals (205), short-handed goals (32) and game-winning goals (86). He scored 30 or more goals in a franchise-record nine different seasons and surpassed the 20-goal mark in 17 of his 20 campaigns. He is also the clubs all-time leader in playoff games (172), goals, assists (104), points, PPG (27), SHG (4) and GWG (19).
With Sakic as team captain, the Avalanche/Nordiques captured an NHL-record nine consecutive division championships from 1995 to 2003. In addition to its two Stanley Cup titles, the Avalanche also won two Presidents Trophies and made six appearances in the Western Conference Finals during that time span.
Sakic recorded 15 career hat tricks, second most in team history, and also scored two in the playoffs. He was a perfect 5-for-5 on penalty shot attempts (4-for-4 in regular season) and was 7-for-21 (33.3 percent) in shootouts.
Sakic, who made his NHL debut on Oct. 6, 1988 against the Hartford Whalers, was selected to 13 NHL All-Star Games, making 12 appearances. He holds the All-Star Game record for career assists with 16, and ranks third on the All-Star points list with 22. Sakic was named MVP of the 2004 All-Star Game and captained the 2007 Western Conference squad.
A three-time Olympian with Team Canada (1998, 2002, 2006), Sakic was the MVP of the 2002 Olympics after lifting Canada to its first gold medal in 50 years. He captained the Canadian Olympic Team at the 2006 Winter Games. Sakic also helped Canada win gold at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, the 1994 IIHF World Championship and 1988 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The Burnaby, B.C., native captured the franchise's first Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2001, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1996, earned the Lester B. Pearson Award (NHLPA MVP) and Lady Byng Trophy (sportsmanship) in 2001 and was named to the NHLs First All-Star Team on three occasions (2001, 2002 and 2004).
Prior to turning pro, Sakic was the 1988 Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year after leading the Western Hockey League with 78 goals and 160 points in 64 games with Swift Current.
Off the ice, Sakic was the recipient of the 2007 NHL Foundation Player Award in recognition of his commitment and service to charities in his community.
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