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Two Much
Austin Murphy
December 09, 1996
Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic of Colorado are the NHL's best center pairing since Gretzky and Messier
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December 09, 1996

Two Much

Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic of Colorado are the NHL's best center pairing since Gretzky and Messier

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"Joe."

Noticing the defeated look on the scribe's face, Sakic said matter-of-factly and without malice, "You're not getting anything out of me."

What Colorado is getting out of Sakic is the best hockey of his career. He has picked up where he left off last season, when he scored 51 regular-season goals and added 18 during the playoffs, including six game-winners. For his prolific and clutch scoring, Sakic was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the postseason. Called upon last June 12 to address 450,000 fans who thronged downtown Denver to celebrate the Avalanche's Stanley Cup sweep of the Florida Panthers, Sakic allowed himself eight words: "Hey, Denver! We're a city of champions now!" The crowd went wild.

Crawford described Sakic's 1995-96 season as a "coming-out" party. It's true that Sakic averaged 94 points in the six full seasons he played in Quebec. His brilliance, however, was that of a silver dollar at the bottom of an outhouse well—for most of his stay in Quebec, the Nordiques stunk.

If Coloradans didn't know who he was at the beginning of last season, they do now. Born in Burnaby to Croatian immigrants, Sakic spoke only Croatian at home until he got to kindergarten. "I think that's why I was so shy," he says. At 17 he moved in order to play for the Swift Current (Sask.) Broncos of the WHL. Two events marked his first year away from home. The first occurred in a corridor at Swift Current Comprehensive High, where Sakic was finishing up his studies. Temporarily mastering his bashfulness, he introduced himself to a comely 10th-grader named Debbie. They were married two years ago. On Oct. 3 Debbie gave birth to their first child, Mitchell.

The second happened on Dec. 30, 1986, when a bus taking the Broncos to a road game hit a patch of black ice on an overpass at 60 mph, went airborne and came crashing down on its right side on the service road. Four players were killed; all Canada mourned.

Sakic landed on his feet—literally—and recalls the tragedy in a passage which, for him, borders on a filibuster: "We stopped skidding, the bus was on its side, and I was just standing there. I don't know what happened. The front windows were gone, and all I had to do was walk out. When something like that happens, it makes you think about how precious life is."

That spring the Nordiques made Sakic the 15th pick in the entry draft. Playing for a crummy team in a snowbound, Francophone city seems like a prescription for misery, but Sakic was happy. "To start out in a small market where nobody paid much attention was the best thing for me," he says.

It was also good for his golf game. Until last season Sakic had been to the playoffs only twice. Both-times the Nordiques were eliminated in the first round. While other guys were making their reputations in the postseason, Sakic was making tee times. Then he went and conducted his personal Sherman's March through the 1996 playoffs and blew his cover for good. Sakic and Forsberg will never lead the league in one-liners, but that's O.K. As Avalanche fans know, there's nothing wrong with the strong, silent types.

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