VANCOUVER – It was a typical Joe Sakic response.
Asked about nearing 1,000 assists in his career, Sakic deflected the attention away from himself and toward the other players he’s skated with during his 19-year NHL career.
“We’ve had some great hockey players that have played in this organization,” the Colorado Avalanche captain said Friday, prior to playing the Vancouver Canucks. “A lot of guys that could score goals. You get that, the points are going to come, especially with our style. We have always had a team that likes to play an up-tempo game.”
Fair enough. But won’t it be special to become only the 11th player in league history to reach 1,000 assists?
“We’ll see when we get there I guess,” Sakic said after a pause. “Not that many players have gotten to that. It would be a tremendous honour, obviously.
“I haven’t thought too much about it.”
From some players the false modestly would sound contrived. But from Sakic the words sound as honest as the work ethic he delivers each night.
Heading into the game against Vancouver the 38-year-old Sakic was second in Avalanche scoring with 16 points, including five goals. His 11 assists gave him 990 for his career.
The numbers made right-winger Ian Laperriere shake his head.
“It’s not to shabby,” said Laperriere. “He’s effective out there, as dangerous as I’ve seen. If anyone wants to play until he’s 45 or 50, I think Joe is the next best candidate. He has the work ethic and the skill to do so.”
Sakic saw an eight-game point streak end when he was held off the scoresheet in the Avs 4-3 shootout win over Edmonton Wednesday. Earlier this season he collected his 1,600 career point, becoming just the eighth player in NHL history to reach that milestone.
“You’d think a guy with over 1,600 points has nothing to prove,” said Laperriere. “It’s in his head that if he wants to keep playing he needs to be on top of his game. By doing what he does extra, that’s the way he’s going to stick around.”
Sakic’s work ethic off the ice is legendary. He trains in the gym every day, spends time stretching before and after games.
His total dedication to the craft doesn’t go unnoticed by young players like Paul Stastny, who finished second in rookie-of-the-year voting last season.
“He’s one of the best players of all time,” said Stastny, the son of Hall-of-Famer Peter Stastny. “He’s still performing at his best.
“What ever he does on the ice or off the ice you watch. You try to learn from him and do the things he does to take of his body the way he does.”
Stastny said Sakic is very approachable.
“Every time I have a question he’ll answer right away,” he said.
Sakic laughed when asked about the advice he’s given Stastny.
“There’s not much you have to say to Paul,” he said. “Paul, you can tell, paid close attention to the way his dad played.
“Paul is a smart hockey player. Even last year when it was his rookie year, he got better as the year went on. There’s not much you have to teach him.”
When Ryan Smyth became a free agent last summer, Sakic was one of the first people to call him to encourage him to come to Denver. It was by assisting on Smyth’s overtime goal in Calgary on Oct. 26 that Sakic recorded his 1,600th point.
Smyth spent years as an Edmonton Oiler battling against Sakic, so he now appreciates being in the same dressing room with him.
“It’s how poised he is on and off the ice,” said Smyth. “The way he deals with himself and how he handles the different kind of pressure that is put upon him.
“He’s so easy going he makes the young guys feel good and the veterans feel good. That’s a great leader to have.”
Sakic has won two Stanley Cups and an Olympic gold medal. He was named the MVP of the playoffs when the Avs won their first Cup in 1996 and the league MVP in 2001.
He’s used to winning, so missing the playoffs last year for the first time in 11 seasons was a bitter pill.
“It was very disappointing” said the Burnaby, B.C., native. “It’s over. We are looking at a better year this year.”
There’s no doubt Sakic would love to add another Stanley Cup to his resume. Just how much longer he’s willing to play to reach that goal remains to be seen.
Sakic grinned when told Laperriere thinks he could play to 50.
“No,” Sakic said.
What about 49?
“We’ll see,” he said. “As long as you are feeling good and feel you can contribute, it’s a great game and fun to be part of.”