Class is always in

Robin Brownlee
July 11 2009 12:48AM

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.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#1 Junk
July 11 2009, 12:57AM
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Sakic to come out of retirement and play for the Oilers (e5)

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#2 Craig "Norris" Muni
July 11 2009, 01:14AM
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@ 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.

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#3 Mike
July 11 2009, 01:19AM
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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.

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#4 eyebleaf
July 11 2009, 01:19AM
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One of the greatest of all time. Burnaby Joe, yo.

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#5 Smitty
July 11 2009, 01:49AM
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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.

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#6 DonovanMD
July 11 2009, 01:55AM
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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.

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#7 Archaeologuy
July 11 2009, 02:06AM
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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.

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#8 Jamie
July 11 2009, 03:07AM
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"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.

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#9 Jack Bauer
July 11 2009, 04:27AM
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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.

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#10 SkinnyD
July 11 2009, 07:25AM
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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... ;)

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#11 Harlie
July 11 2009, 07:32AM
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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!!

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#12 Clarkenstein
July 11 2009, 07:55AM
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In the old Funk & Wagnalls under "class"... Mr. Joseph Sakic. Thanks for being a great Canadian Joe!!

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#13 Mike76
July 11 2009, 07:59AM
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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.

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#14 Heazues
July 11 2009, 08:49AM
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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.

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#15 Milli
July 11 2009, 09:08AM
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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.

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#16 BigE57
July 11 2009, 09:35AM
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The fact that he spent his entire career with one nHL organization speaks volumes about his character.

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#17 Robin Brownlee
July 11 2009, 09:42AM
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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.

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#18 Jonathan Willis
July 11 2009, 10:21AM
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Thanks for the story, Robin.

He's going to be missed, even by people who wished he'd just skip games in Edmonton.

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#19 Librarian Mike
July 11 2009, 10:24AM
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Thanks Robin. I've always felt Sakic was a player it was impossible to hate. That's saying something considering he played on the same team as both Claude Lemieux and Patrick Roy. The sport is a little worse off now that he's gone, I think.

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#20 Matt N
July 11 2009, 10:27AM
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How long until he is in a management position? Assistant GM in Colorado by next year I imagine.

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#21 Librarian Mike
July 11 2009, 10:38AM
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Maybe they can recruit Sakic to run an orientation camp for new players like they have in the NBA. Apparently, theirs involves Bill Russell coming in and trying to convey the message to not be dumbasses. Who knows, maybe a kick in the pants and being told to stop being selfish by Sakic may have made a positive difference on old whatshisname.

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#22 freeze
July 11 2009, 11:21AM
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Well said Robin, well said. The game has lost a great ambassador. It is too bad that he had to go out riddled by injury.

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#23 Word
July 11 2009, 11:35AM
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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.

Definitely.

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#24 Peter Pan
July 11 2009, 11:40AM
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One memory of Joe Sakic that I'll never forget was when he stood up for his linemates and beat the crap out of Doug Gilmour during an Avs vs. Hawks game.

And looking at those old hilights of him in a Nords jersey wearing #88 was a nice trip back into memory lane. Mr.Klutch himself will be missed. Their is only one Joe F*ckin' Sakic!

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#25 Peter Pan
July 11 2009, 11:41AM
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Jamie wrote:

“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.

Vintage Bob Cole. A "Henderson-like" game by Sakic indeed.

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#26 Lofty
July 11 2009, 11:44AM
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Please forward to Mr. Heatley @ #69 Brokeback Mountain, Kelowna B.C.

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#27 Librarian Mike
July 11 2009, 11:45AM
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Peter Pan wrote:

One memory of Joe Sakic that I’ll never forget was when he stood up for his linemates and beat the crap out of Doug Gilmour during an Avs vs. Hawks game.

Oh, I totally agree! hxxp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd2SB51EQzw

"How ya like them apples, Gilmour?" haha.

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#28 Chris
July 11 2009, 11:49AM
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Remembering Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman makes me even angrier at Peter Puck for trading away Gretzky. Not every club has had the good fortune to land a true "franchise player"... DAMN YOU PETER!!!

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#29 Fridge
July 11 2009, 11:51AM
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When I think of Joe Sakic it reminds me of a beer comercial: My name is Joe, and I am Canadian

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#30 Austin Ayala
July 11 2009, 11:52AM
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say it aint so joe

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#31 Jeremy
July 11 2009, 12:07PM
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@Brownlee Did that little boy Matthew make beat the cancer? I hope so.

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#32 roadrunner
July 11 2009, 12:46PM
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Joe Sakic is an incredible hockey player and obviously when the GM of the Avs is almost brought to tears, tells you the type of person Sakic was.

Heart, character, class and always showed up. The epitomy of an NHL superstar and he's Canadian which makes him even more special. You never heard a thing from Sakic or his agent demanding trades or more money. If there was anything regarding contracts or situations out there, it was kept very low key. He didn't whine about his playing time, didn't go to the press about his coaches, team mates or what he's not getting. Sakic just went out and played the game. True professional in every sense of the word.

The NHL needs more players like Joe as his class of player is a slow, dying breed in the NEW NHL.

Farewell Joe and thanks for the memories!

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#33 Mike76
July 11 2009, 01:18PM
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I wonder if now that he is retired he will come out and address the Graham James scandal.

I do not think he was one of James' Boys (although there was one maybe two that remained unnamed), but he was on that team and must know something.

He has never addressed the situation publicly, but after what Sheldon Kennedy went through in life it would be nice to hear from Joe on the matter.

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#34 Sarah
July 11 2009, 01:27PM
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Amazing hockey player, but even more importantly, amazing person. We'll miss seeing Joe on the ice, but wish him luck in all of his future endeavours!

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#35 Peter Pan
July 11 2009, 01:41PM
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Sarah wrote:

Amazing hockey player, but even more importantly, amazing person. We’ll miss seeing Joe on the ice, but wish him luck in all of his future endeavours!

Are you hot?

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#36 roadrunner
July 11 2009, 02:02PM
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Wow..Peter Pan (or should I say Tinkerbell?) go back to Neverland!

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#37 oilersseasonticketholdersince99
July 11 2009, 02:40PM
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When it comes to players like Sakic and Yzerman I think that all fans wish them well,these guys are class acts they take the time to talk to fans and are level headed,there are many players in the league that could learn alot from Sakic and yzerman. It is to bad that once some of these guys join the show, they get a case of swollen head syndrome.

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#38 Homie
July 11 2009, 05:58PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

He’s going to be missed, even by people who wished he’d just skip games in Edmonton.

Amen to that. I would always cringe when the puck came within five feet of Sakic in the slot as it always seemed to find a way to get onto his stick. His shot was unmatched in the game from the top of the circles in.

Question: Yzerman or Sakic. Who ranks higher all-time in your books?

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#39 Librarian Mike
July 11 2009, 06:06PM
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Homie wrote:

Question: Yzerman or Sakic. Who ranks higher all-time in your books? Re

Tough question. I'd probably go with Yzerman, as his defensive play tips the balance.

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#40 Robin Brownlee
July 11 2009, 06:06PM
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@ Homie: Sakic. Joe was better in the last five year of his career than Yzerman was. That's the difference, for me.

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#41 OilatSea
July 13 2009, 10:46AM
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Glad to have you Joe! You will be missed.

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#42 blade
July 15 2009, 09:26PM
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@ Mike76:

james preyed on fringe guys not superstars.

Sakics billet is famous in the WHL and as far as surrogate mothers go.....a grizzly bear wouldnt hold a candle to her if someone (james included) messed with one of her boys.

Sakic was pure magic in junior... you think the oil got hammered by him.. try being the saskatoon blades. Pure class, no dive in the glass after a big goal, but rather.... Ive been here before and Ill be here again calm..... the way it should be IMO.

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