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Farewell to a national hero

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Since this is an Oiler-centric blog I could have titled this "Good riddance to an Oiler-killer", but that would be neither fair nor accurate. For one thing, there's fans of about 29 teams that consider Joe Sakic an [insert favourite team here]-killer. For another, my allegiance to the Oilers is both predated and overriden by my support of Team Canada, a squad which has been enriched by Burnaby Joe's presence frequently and successfully over the past two decades. For a third, it's impossible to bear any ill will towards this class act of a hockey player and a human being. So if you came here expecting another one of Bruce's broadsides, it ain't happening.

Warning: Unabashed cheerleading to follow, only fans of Joe Sakic need make The Jump ...

... which should pretty much be everybody. Thanks for reading.

Combining professional, amateur and international careers, Joe's breadth of accomplishments has few peers. As Joe would himself, let's put the team first:

World Junior Gold (1988)
World Championship Gold (1994)
Stanley Cup champion (1996, 2001)
Olympic Gold (2002)
World Cup Gold (2004)

One of 22 members of the Triple Gold Club, Sakic is one of just five members of an even more elite group that has won the Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold, World Championship Gold, and Canada/World Cup Gold. It's a pretty accomplished quintet to say the least:

Slava Fetisov
Igor Larionov
Brendan Shanahan
Scott Niedermayer
Joe Sakic

In the realm of individual accomplishments, the highest honour is Most Valuable Player at whatever level of competition. Again, Sakic excelled at every level:

1988 CHL Player of the Year
1996 Conn Smythe Trophy
2001 Hart Memorial Trophy
2002 Olympic Games MVP

Other awards accumulated over the years speak to the quality of the man and his status among his peers: Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, Lester Pearson Award, Most Assists with Children Award, NHL Foundation Player Award. The latter recognize his work for the Food Bank where his charities have fed millions of underprivileged kids and families. 

The argument rages as to whether there is any such thing as persistent "clutch performance". My opinion is yes there is, with the caveat that "the sun don't shine on the same dog's ass every day". For sure it shone on Sakic's ass more than most. Joe Sakic is the poster boy for clutch performance.

Surely if there is one category which practically defines that ethereal element it is overtime goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs, where Sakic stands alone with 8 ... having broken the last, cherished record of Rocket Richard, who still stands second on that list with 6. It was my electric thrill to experience one of those sudden deaths in person, when Joe found a seam late in the first overtime, burst wide around Drake Berehowsky and blasted a perfectly-placed slapshot to the short side that overpowered Curtis Joseph and sent the Northlands Coliseum crowd grumbling into the night. One thing we were not grumbling about was losing on a cheap goal by a third-rate player.

Happier memories invoke pretty much the same scenario -- Sakic scoring big goals, but wearing the red and white. None were sweeter than 2002 in Salt Lake City, where Burnaby Joe settled the gold medal game against the hated Americans with two goals and two assists in one of the great Big Game performances I have ever seen. His late breakaway dart that eliminated all doubt -- either about who would win, or who was the better team -- pulled me out of my couch as surely as if Joe-oh had unleashed anti-gravity.

Congratulations, Joe, for an incredible career. And thanks for thrilling hockey fans everywhere, whether we were fer ya or agin' ya. You showed us all how it should be done.