Class is always in

The name Joe Sakic and the word “class” have appeared in the same sentence countless times since Burnaby Joe’s retirement announcement on Thursday. In this case, the term doesn’t begin to describe him. It’s an understatement.

After sneering, moaning and lecturing about what a me-first person Dany Heatley is this week, it was an interesting emotional intersection for me when I sat down to think about Sakic bidding farewell.

Sakic’s NHL career speaks for itself and has been well-documented since he made it official he’s hanging up the blades after 20 NHL seasons. He’s a sure-fire hall-of-famer. The numbers, all of the personal awards and the Stanley Cup rings are on the record for all to see. He was a special player.

Having known Joe since his first season with the Swift Current Broncos in 1986-87, I can tell you without any reservation, he’s an even more special person. That’s saying something.

Framed by all the talk about Heatley, specifically the criticisms I and others have offered in terms of his selfishness and sense of entitlement — I’m not sure I’d be any different had I been a millionaire by the age of 21 — Sakic’s virtues seem even more vivid.

In a sport that’s filled with wonderful young men when compared to other pro leagues, Sakic stands out as one of only a handful of players I know who isn’t one iota different today than he was when he was a kid riding the bus to and from Swift Current.

For all the millions of dollars he’s made, for having earned a place in the record books as one of the greatest players to skate in the NHL, Sakic is very much the same guy today as he was 20 years ago. Of the players I know, I can only put a handful — Mark Recchi and Jarome Iginla, to name two — in the same category.

Class? The epitome of it.

Taking the time

There are lots of NHL players who give greatly of themselves in the communities in which they live. Oilers captain Ethan Moreau was honoured for his good deeds this season when he was named recipient of the King Clancy Award. The list of nominees for that award is a long one.

Sakic is one of those players who believes in giving back, who makes an effort, who realizes he’s lucky to be healthy and wealthy and famous and that he can make a difference.

While I can’t do the moment justice in words, I’d like to share a snapshot from three or four years ago at the Pepsi Center that tells you something about Sakic.

On this trip to Denver, a little fellow from Edmonton — I want to say his name was Matthew — who was a staunch Oilers fan, met up with the team at the arena for the morning skate. The little guy, he was six or seven, had bone cancer in one of his legs.

Wide-eyed, just as you’d expect, Matthew had his face pressed up against the glass watching the Avalanche skate. I made a remark to Colorado PR man Jean Martineau about Matthew and asked if it might be possible if he could get a signed puck or something from somebody like, say, Joe. Jean said he’d pass it along.

A couple minutes later, Joe, who’d been off the ice awhile and was on his way home, poked his head out of the dressing room door. He spotted Matthew and motioned to me with one finger — not that finger — as if to say, “Just a minute.”

Not long after, Matthew was quietly guided down a hall to a room wear Sakic was waiting. No cameras. No reporters. Nothing on the record. This wasn’t a photo-op. Joe introduced himself and shook Matthew’s hand.

To say the kid was beaming is to understate. Joe spent at least 10 minutes talking to him, He handed over a signed photo, personalized of course, and a puck and some other stuff.

I’ll never forget the look of joy and excitement on that little boy’s face when he walked back down the hall as Joe headed the other way. Never.

That’s Joe.

— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.

  • lj

    Smitty wrote:

    I think one of the classiest moments in hockey was after the Avs won their second Cup in 2001. Joe, having already won a cup and having had then chance to hoist it himself, turned and gave the honour to Ray Bourque.
    As both a Sakic fan and a Bourque fan, I must say I got rather choked up to see a display of class like that.
    One of the greatest moments in NHL history.

    You're right. With somne people you could argue that gesture was a made-for-TV moment, but that's not the case with Sakic. He was always happy to share the spotlight with somebody else. Off the ice, he was kind, polite and generous, and it was no act. He was the same guy when the cameras were off and the reporters were gone as we was when the public eye was on him.

  • lj

    It's nice to hear that some of these guys actually realize what playing pro sports is, and what it does for them. Sakic always seemed to be a person who understood and loved the honor of playing the game, not just for the money, and doing whatever it took to win.

  • lj

    Mike76 wrote:

    But, they still pissed me off on most nights they were here.

    lol, but i bet if on one of those nights, you were able to meet him. (parking lot, whatever) you would have left with a whole different outlook.

    farewell sakic, you ARE one of the best and the game will miss you.

  • lj

    As a hockey player in Colorado I could not stand this guy, because he and Forsberg would walk all over us in our own barn at will. To the same sort of degree or even higher of a degree than Modano and Zubov.

    Lets face it. This guy was one of the top Oiler killers of the past 12 years.

    But since he is a nice guy amd a Canadian I guess we can give him an Oilersnation pass and some kudos for a great career.

    But, they still pissed me off on most nights they were here.

  • lj

    I lived in Vancouver from 2000-2002 and I worked in Burnaby and in and around Vancouver in general. Everyone who I met who asked where I was from would ask about the Oilers and then ask me what I thought about Burnaby Joe. Finally after that they would ask me my thoughts on the Canucks. That's the kind of impact Joe has had on his hometown. He wasn't even playing for his hometeam and locals still we're prouder to talk about him then they're own team. I also had the pleasure of driving on Joe Sakic Way in Burnaby many times (near the Burnaby 8 Rinks arena) where the Nuck's would practice. Congrats to you Burnaby Joe! A great ambassador and from all accounts a great guy!!

  • lj

    Thanks for sharing Robin…character can and should never be underestimated in any walk of life.

    Archaeologuy wrote:

    Some guys are just born to be great at whatever they choose to do with their lives. The rest of us are just lucky if we can witness it.

    Amen, sister… 😉

  • lj

    One of the best ever. I remember a game at rexall this year, they were having a ceremony for something and they sent Ryan Smyth up instead of Joe. I couldnt believe it. They sent a money grabbing crybaby loser like that instead of one of the best of all time?? Of course Ryan was booed.

  • lj

    "Canada trying to hang on and get a break, it's gonna be a break! It is Joe Sakic … scores! Joe Sakic, scores! And that makes it 5-2 Canada! Surely, that's gotta be it!"

    I will never forget him in that game.

  • lj

    I remember his goal against NJ in the finals, between Stevens legs and top shelf on Marty. Truly one of the best goals I've ever seen and Joe made it look so effortless.

  • lj

    I think one of the classiest moments in hockey was after the Avs won their second Cup in 2001. Joe, having already won a cup and having had then chance to hoist it himself, turned and gave the honour to Ray Bourque.

    As both a Sakic fan and a Bourque fan, I must say I got rather choked up to see a display of class like that.

    One of the greatest moments in NHL history.

  • lj

    Favorite player of all time. I grew up watching him play in Quebec. Followed him to Colorado where I watched him win that cup in the phenomenal story that was the playoffs in 95-96. He was a champion, even if we dropped the ball in Turin. He lead us to gold and lead us to so many points in hockey. It was incredibly difficult to see him retire as he was an idol and role model to me.

  • lj

    @ Junk:

    He and Stevie Y were my favs growing up. Sakic always seemed like he had ice water running through his veins during games. His press conference got me chocked up because I've never seen him loose his composure.

    Thanks for the story, it doesn't surprise me, but it's too bad when a sport looses one of its good guys.