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Sakic lets game, NHL do talking
Evan Semon © News/2006

Avalanche captain Joe Sakic has been anything but your average hockey player during an 18-season NHL career that includes a gaggle of individual and team accomplishments - two Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal and a Hart Trophy as most valuable player, among them.
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An ordinary Joe? Well, yes and no.

Avalanche captain Joe Sakic has been anything but your average hockey player during an 18-season NHL career that includes a gaggle of individual and team accomplishments - two Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal and a Hart Trophy as most valuable player, among them.

"There's a few guys that are automatic Hall of Famers, and he's obviously one of them," all-time scoring king Wayne Gretzky said. "I always tell young guys, if you want to watch a center play the game and play it properly, watch Joe Sakic."

Even at 37, Sakic is the Avalanche's best player. He's tied for 17th in NHL scoring with 52 points in 47 games and recently became the 10th-highest scorer of all time.

His latest honor: Being chosen captain of the Western Conference team for tonight's NHL All-Star Game at the American Airlines Center (6 MST, Versus).

While youngsters such as Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin have taken center stage as the new generation of NHL stars, there's still plenty of life left in the older guard.

"He's 37?" Edmonton's Ryan Smyth said of Sakic. "He doesn't look like it. He doesn't play like it, either."

Sakic, who joined the Quebec Nordiques as a 19-year-old in 1988-89, is the second-oldest player in tonight's lineup. New York Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan, captain of the Eastern Conference team, was born 6 months earlier.

'Doing something right'

"You've got to be doing something right to be selected," said Sakic, who has played in 11 previous All-Star Games; a lacerated calf muscle prevented him from going to the 1997 contest. "It's just a different feeling for a veteran. Early in your career, you're really nervous, kind of in awe of everyone. Now I have a lot of friends from around the league and it's fun meeting up with your buddies.

"It's a laid-back atmosphere."

That's also a fitting description of Sakic, whose calm demeanor conceals a fierce competitive nature. Aside from his talent, players from around the league are especially respectful of Sakic because of his self-effacing personality.

Crosby, the 19-year-old wunderkind, would like to pattern his burgeoning career in similar fashion.

"He's a superstar but very professional," Crosby said. "He was always a great role model to follow growing up, and he still is. Guys like that, you really enjoy sharing the ice with them. I've never met him, but that's part of the great experience of coming (to the All-Star Game). You get the opportunity to meet guys like him."

Man of few words

Rarely will you hear Sakic utter the word "I." He doesn't like discussing personal accomplishments and even jokes with some pride about his "Quoteless Joe" reputation for giving bland responses in interviews.

While teammates and former teammates insist Sakic can be quite the prankster in the privacy of the locker room, they acknowledge he is a person who generally leads by example instead of with words.

"Somebody that comes in and rants and raves every day, that kind of gets old. After a while, it doesn't have much of an impact," said Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, who won his only Stanley Cup in 2001 with the Avalanche.

"When something needed to be said, Joe was able to say it. The surprise factor. . . .

"Joe didn't need to say very much. If you're out there doing the right things in how you prepare and how you play, that's what guys see."

Sakic's work ethic is such that he could be described as a gym rat; his off-ice regimen has taken on almost legendary proportions among NHL players.

When Avalanche forward Ian Laperriere played in Los Angeles, he said he "heard stories" about the hours Sakic puts in away from the rink.

"I had to see it for myself," he said.

Same thing with Bourque, who was traded from Boston to the Avalanche in March 2000.

"Every day, he's in there early, whether it be on the (exercise) bike or on the weights," Bourque said. "I've always said, a lot of great players, if you have the opportunity to play with them, try and figure out why they have success. I think a lot of it is in their preparation and how they take care of themselves and how they practice."

It's all in the wrist

Not an imposing physical specimen at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, Sakic has used deceptive speed and smarts to score 594 goals, 17th on the all-time list, along with a potent wrist shot that has caused plenty of grief for goalies over the years.

New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, a Vezina Trophy winner, has seen that shot up close and personal, while playing with the Devils and in practices as Sakic's teammate on Canada's Olympic and World Cup teams.

"He shoots it from almost the same spot, but he shoots it from different areas on his body," Brodeur said. "You have guys who will always shoot from one area, but he puts his hands everywhere in front of him. That makes it hard to read what he wants to do, whether he's going to make a pass or just let it go.

"You have to be aware of him all the time. You think you have him and the release is so quick. Especially now (with the league's emphasis on offense), he has more room, so if he comes against you, you really have to pay attention."

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, a four-time Norris Trophy winner, said Sakic has the ability to unleash his shot with uncanny quickness.

"He releases it so fast," Lidstrom said. "Sometimes a goalie can read when other players are going to shoot it, but he can look like he's going to pass it, and he uses the same movement to shoot instead. His release is deadly."

As dangerous as ever, players say.

"More importantly," Gretzky said, "he's a good person. It's good to see a guy like that have such a great career."

SEEING A PATTERN

19

Joe Sakic isn't the only one to shine with the number. Some others:

Tony Gwynn

Keyshawn Johnson

Willis Reed

Bryan Trottier

Johnny Unitas

Lenny Wilkens

Steve Yzerman

TOP 10 NHL SCORERS

No. Player    Points

1. Wayne Gretzky   2,857

2. Mark Messier    1,887

3. Gordie Howe    1,850

4. Ron Francis    1,798

5. Marcel Dionne    1,771

6. Steve Yzerman    1,755

7. Mario Lemieux    1,723

8. Phil Esposito    1,590

9. Ray Bourque    1,579

10. Joe Sakic    1,541

MR. CONSISTENCY

Sakic is one of 10 players in NHL history to have scored at least 20 goals in 17 seasons. The only time he failed to do so was in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, when he scored 19 in 47 games.

Gordie Howe scored 20 or more 22 times, Ron Francis 20, Dave Andreychuk 19, Brendan Shanahan 18, and Marcel Dionne, Mike Gartner, Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull and Mark Messier all 17.

LOYAL TO THE CAUSE

Only four players have scored more points with the same organization than Sakic - Mario Lemieux, (Pittsburgh), Gretzky (Edmonton), Howe (Detroit) and Steve Yzerman (Detroit). Gretzky also played for three other NHL teams, while Howe played for one other NHL team.

They said it

Avalanche captain Joe Sakic has a lot of fans throughout the NHL, including Hall of Famers, current players and one of his former coaches. They were eager to discuss a few of the traits that make the All-Star so great.

"He's got the passion. You need physical ability, of course, but I think you also need the passion to enable you to take that extra step when you get older. Joe still has it. He's a great athlete. The guy's been around for so long and he's still being dominant. As a person, he's just a great man. I've known him for probably eight, nine years now. He's a gentleman, a guy you want to be associated with. It's tremendous what he's accomplished with the Avalanche and with the Nordiques."

Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils goalie

"The biggest thing about Joe, obviously, his skill level is as good or better than other guys in the league. That makes it a lot easier when you come to the rink. But for Joe, he works as hard as any person in hockey and he's unselfish. He never cheats the game. He never has long shifts. He's very unselfish. He competes hard every night, and if you want to model yourself after a good centerman in hockey, he's a perfect guy to watch because he doesn't do too many things the wrong way. He's one of those guys like a (Chris) Chelios or a (Mark) Messier. He could play another two or three years. He loves to play."

Wayne Gretzky, NHL's all-time scoring leader and Coyotes coach

"He was a handful every time you played against him. You always had to be aware of where he was on the ice and you tried to stay as close to him as you could. He didn't need much room to maneuver or shoot or make a pass. He fits into the category of those few players that, if you're not aware of him, you're going to be in big trouble. Any time you played Quebec or Colorado, he was always part of the discussion, without a doubt. No one stops him; look at his numbers."

Larry Murphy,

Hall of Fame defenseman

"It was pretty challenging to play against him, but it was quite an honor to play with him. He's a classy man and I'll always be thankful that I had the opportunity to play with Joe to fulfill what was left for me to accomplish in my career - win the (Stanley) Cup - and he was a big part of that."

Ray Bourque, former Avalanche teammate, Hall of Fame defenseman

"First, unbelievable player, the best two-way player in the past 10, 15 years in this league. So complete. You have a big faceoff in the offensive zone, you have a big faceoff in the defensive zone, you have a big penalty kill and a big power play. Any time the name Joe Sakic comes up, you know you have a franchise player. The guy takes as much pride in his defensive game, and then it's his offensive game he can back it up with his own performance. And the scary thing of Joe Sakic, he's a better person than he is of a player. Great team guy. Everything is more important than himself. And he was an unbelievable captain for me in Colorado, and I'm very proud that we won a Stanley Cup together."

Bob Hartley, former Avalanche coach, now coach of the Atlanta Thrashers

"We've played together in the Olympics and things like that, so I've gotten to know him pretty good. He's just a real calm, cool kind of guy. He's not quiet; he's outgoing. Maybe he's a little more quiet with you guys than with us, but he's a real good guy. He's like a fine wine, he just keeps getting better with age. We've played against Colorado a couple times this year and he's been the best player on the ice every game. It's a tribute to just how hard he works off the ice. He's just a great player."

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks center

"I've been fortunate to play with him in many events. He's a great leader, on and off the ice. I have a great deal of respect for the guy. He plays hard and he knows what it takes to win. He's not afraid to say something when it needs to be said. I know during both Olympics, he spoke up at the right times and made an impact that way."

Ryan Smyth, Edmonton Oilers forward

"Joe is never low and he's never high. After the game, when you see him, you don't know if he scored four goals or if he was minus-4 and they lost 6-0. He has a really good attitude about the game. He shows his leadership by what he does on the ice. With Joe, there are never bad days."

Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks forward

Super Star

Goals and assists by Joe Sakic in the NHL All-Star Game.

Year Location G A

1990 Pittsburgh 0 2

1991 Chicago 0 1

1992 Philadelphia 0 2

1993 Montreal 0 3

1994 New York 1 2

1996 Boston 0 0

1997 San Jose DNP (injury)

1998 Vancouver 0 2

2000 Toronto 1 0

2001 Denver 1 0

2002 Los Angeles 0 0

2004 St. Paul* 3 0

Totals 11 games 6 12*All-Star Game Most Valuable Player

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