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Burnaby Joe's Colorado Avalanche off to a terrifying start in 2013
He'll always be Burnaby Joe. An exported Vancouver product. An Avalanche legend.
For years, I – and I can only imagine so many others like me – had a funny, almost uneasy love and hatred for Joe Sakic, but I say hatred in the kindest way someone could flick that word off their tongue.
You loved Burnaby Joe. He played hockey the perfect way. He was admirable and awe-some. Jaw-dropping. I once watched him – live at Rogers Arena – shatter the glass behind Vancouver's net... from his own blue line.
Joe Sakic never complained. Never said anything negative, not even when Todd Bertuzzi drove Sakic's teammate Steve Moore's head into the ice and paralyzed his maybe budding hockey career.
(Complain? He barely speaks. How many of you knew he played for Graham James, the infamous pedophile hockey coach, in Swift Current? Or that he was on the bus that crashed in 1986 and killed four of his Broncos teammates?)
And yet – on the ice and from my occasional seats in Rogers Arena – I couldn't stand him. As Vancouver's most prolific, consistent opponent, he was terrifying. He buzzed all over the offensive zone. He'd lose the puck and get it back in three seconds. In his own end, he was a warrior – the kind of player Daniel and Henrik would never be able to dance around, never be able to fool.
Like Jonathan Toews, but better in every way. Sakic was the Pavel Datsyuk of his day, and their careers overlapped just a tiny bit.
And I hated Joe so much more because you couldn't possibly hate the guy in any way. He was better than everyone on your team, in every way.
Sakic was a gentleman. Still is, apparently.
"Gentleman Joe Sakic can't wipe the smile off his face these days," wrote the CBC's Tim Wharnsby, in an article on Burnaby Joe's new career path (posted Thursday).
"Eleven months after the native of Burnaby, B.C., was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the 44-year-old received the same honour with the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. As an added bonus, Sakic is five months into his role as the executive vice-president of hockey operations of the Colorado Avalanche and his club is a perfect 6-0-0 entering Thursday's game against the Detroit Red Wings."
Every one of Colorado's young bloods has a little Sakic in their stream.
Nathan MacKinnon – who Sakic just drafted No. 1 overall in June's NHL entry Draft – lifts the leg like Joe. The peeing-dog leg wrist shot, I call it. He skates like Joe. He swivels and strafes like Joe.
Matt Duchene is slick, speedy, and smart. He's a professor and a wizard at the time time.
Gabriel Landeskog is a vicious two-way talent. Not vicious like violent, but vicious in attack and vicious in effort. He's a talented offensive snipe show when he needs to be. He's also the team captain, a position Joe held ever since the franchise's days in Quebec City.
With any luck, one or all of MacKinnon, Duchene, and Landeskog will be career Colorado hockey players. They may even have their numbers raised to the rafters one day, alongside Sakic and the club's new coach, Patrick Roy.
On Thursday, all three players – and the rest of their squad, duh – face-off against the Detroit Red Wings and the already mentioned Datsyuk. The rivalry that once was vicious in the violent meaning is now a little dull, what with Detroit in the Eastern Conference and Colorado not being a competitor since Burnaby Joe last laced 'em up.
It's probably a little dangerous to try and predict where the Avalanche's roster of basically rookies will go in their careers. I hate when other dudes do that, even though I'm guilty of the same crime, from time-to-time (that rhymed).
Is it really fair to compare Carey Price's early years in Montreal with Patrick Roy's or Ken Dryden's? Is it fair to link Sidney Crosby with Mario Lemieux, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with Wayne Gretzky... or any of the Avs with Sakic or Peter Forsberg?
But can we help ourselves?
For my money – greatness and Hall of Fame inductions pending – Colorado should be proud as long as those three guys can finish their careers with a quote similar to the one Sakic delivered to Wharnsby:
"I've often said the biggest accomplishment for me was just playing in the NHL and just making it. That was a childhood dream.
"I was very fortunate to play on some great teams, whether in Colorado playing for Stanley Cups or playing for your country. I was lucky."
And, hey, friendly foe or not, Burnaby and Vancouver should be proud of that, too.