Thursday, July 9, 2009

Day One-Hundred Seventy-Nine: "I just wanted to be a hockey player."

Super Joe is gone. Like, really gone. I kept holding out hope until this morning that his "career announcement" at today's press conference was going to be "2009-10 will be my last season in the National Hockey League." No such luck.

And I don't blame the man. There is absolutely no reason for him to stick around. After a decade of dominance and a couple of decent years after that, the Avs are finally in the tank, and while they're doing a decent job of righting the ship, it takes time. And Joe's 40. He's not going to be playing by the time things are set right again. He's not a Chris Chelios; Joe Sakic will only play for as long as he can be the type of player he wants/expects to be. Apparently, that time has passed.

If you want to read an awesome farewell tribute/column for Sakic, click here. There were a ton of them all over the Internet today. It wasn't just the Denver area beat writers that felt the need to give Sakic some sort of sendoff. Congratulations and thanks rained in from all across the league. Even Detroit. I don't think Sakic has an enemy in all of hockey.

I watched the press conference today on my laptop between phone calls at work. Just about every speaker started talking about what a consummate professional Joe always was, how he led not by words but by example, how he was clutch, the guy they could always count on when things got tough and the games got big. They praised his class and sportsmanship. They lauded his intellect and his competitive spirit. He was a master of all he did--and he did a lot of things quite well. Halfway through the speech, however, each speaker would start to tear up as they began to share the personal connection they'd made to Sakic; what a great man he is, what a great friend he'd become. They all mentioned that, while he was all business at the rink, there was no doubt, ever, that he was a family-man first. When Joe went home, he went from being Super Joe to Average Joe with a wife and kids, and they always came first.

Another famous Sakic nickname was Quoteless Joe. I've read countless hockey writers who've said Sakic was one of the most boring interviews they'd ever taken. They'd try to get him to brag on himself, and he wouldn't. They'd try to get him to talk trash, and he wouldn't. They'd try to get him to talk about how awesome his team was--and there were some AWESOME teams in those 20 years Sakic played with the Nordique/Avalanche franchise--and he wouldn't do it. That just wasn't his style. He wasn't mean or cold; he'd always talk to the press, he just didn't give those juicy sound-offs or soundbites that beat writers love.

He just went to the rink, kicked serious butt, celebrated with his teammates, and went home afterward.

Two Stanley Cups. Olympic Gold Medal. World Cup of Hockey gold medal. Hart Trophy. Conn Smythe trophy. Art Ross trophy. Lester Pearson trophy. All-Star game MVP. Thirteen All-Star selections. Heck, the guy even won the Lady Byng trophy one year. Eighth all-time in points. Six-hundred twenty-five goals. And, an NHL-record eight overtime winning goals in the playoffs. Always a winner; always a class act. And, for as long as I've been an Avs fan (since the team moved to Denver and the local Fox Sports station started broadcasting all their games in 1995), he's always been there. Not only there, but front and center.

And now he's not.

I'm not going to lie, it was a little emotional to watch Super Joe's final farewell. It absolutely sucks that the last season ended the way it did (back injury early in the year, and then a freak snow blower accident kept him out for the rest of the season). If anyone ever deserved a better way to go out, it was Joe. And I know that next year will be rough, even if Sakic were in the lineup (and he could still play, if he felt his body could take it another year. Man was a fitness BEAST). But I will miss him. It'll be weird watching the Avs play and knowing there's no #19 on the ice anywhere. I don't know who the next team captain will be (it was Joe for 17 years), but that "C" will look awfully strange on a different shoulder for quite awhile.

This kid may never smile again.

Anyway, I'll miss Joe Sakic. The NHL will miss Joe Sakic. Great players retire all the time, it's true, but there's no athlete in any sport whose meant more to his team and his city than Joe Sakic has for Denver and the Avalanche. (As much, sure, but never more)

Thanks, Joe. Congrats on a phenomenal career. Enjoy your family. And...yeah. Just, thanks. Thanks a lot.