With Joe Sakic set to hold a press conference in Denver this afternoon to announce his retirement from the NHL, a host of tributes are being written, mostly related to "Super Joe" and his world-class hockey skills, or reputation for leadership.
As Mike Chen noted yesterday, however, one of his nicknames was "Quoteless Joe", for the understated tone he took with the media, eschewing controversy even under the most trying circumstances. I got an up-close look at how Sakic handled such situations, as my first opportunity to cover an NHL game with media credentials was March 26, 1997 at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
That was the infamous Darren McCarty/Claude Lemieux episode, wherein McCarty exacted revenge for Lemieux's blindside hit on Kris Draper in the 1996 Western Conference Finals. It was easily the most anticipated and exciting regular season NHL game I've ever seen, and the media coverage rivaled that of the playoffs - I remember going back and forth between the Colorado and Detroit dressing rooms after the game and having to work my way through a sea of people.
On the one hand, you had the Detroit guys like McCarty and Draper calling it a big win, but not overplaying it or delivering any "message board" material for a potential playoff rematch, while on the Colorado side guys like Mike Keane and Adam Foote bristled at the notion that the Wings had jumped them on home ice, rather than in an earlier game at Denver. Colorado's coach at the time, Marc Crawford, also held a surly press conference that called for league sanction over what Detroit had done.
The calm in all this storm, however, was Joe Sakic - as he cooly unlaced his skates and took questions from reporters, he shrugged off the talk of fisticuffs and spoke of being disappointed at losing the game, but that Detroit was a good team... zzzzzzz....
It wasn't that Sakic operated at a Jay Bouwmeester-like level of banality, but instead that as a team leader, he was focused on winning, and didn't want to engage in a sideshow that had nothing positive to offer the Avalanche.
The guy was pure class, through and through, and deserves every one of the accolades sent his way this week. Congratulations on a great career, and enjoy the days ahead, Joe.
Just get someone else to clear the snow off your driveway, OK?