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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

  • RCN

    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!

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

  • RCN

    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!!!

  • RCN

    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!

  • RCN

    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.

  • RCN

    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?

  • RCN

    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.

  • RCN

    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?

  • RCN

    @ 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.