DENVER – As a stay-at-home dad now, Joe Sakic’s life centres around chauffeuring his daughter to gymnastics and coaching his two boys in hockey.
The Colorado Avalanche standout is in no hurry to change that schedule. After years of being gone, he’s relishing his new, more relaxed role.
Maybe down the road, Sakic might entertain thoughts of getting involved with the Avalanche organization in some way.
“I’m having the time of my life right now, so I don’t want to kind of ruin that,” Sakic said. “But I watch all the games. … Whenever they need me to come to a game, I’m here.”
His presence has been requested for the season opener Thursday night against the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.
For a night of fun and flashbacks, not in any sort of official capacity.
Sakic will join his buddies on the ice to celebrate the 15th anniversary of their 1996 Stanley Cup championship. There will be 26 players and coaches in attendance for the reunion, including Patrick Roy, Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Mike Keane and Claude Lemieux.
“That was one of the best groups I’ve ever been around,” Sakic said. “We were so close on and off the ice.”
The Avalanche swept the Florida Panthers in the finals that year, giving the state of Colorado its first major pro sports crown in the team’s first season in town after relocating from Quebec.
Not that it really helped with recognition around the city, especially in the early going.
Keane discovered that when he was stopped by a police officer as he travelled down the interstate on his way to practice. Since the team changed at old McNichols Arena and then carpooled to another facility, Keane was in full uniform, including his helmet.
“The policeman pulled him over and asked him for his ID,” Lemieux recounted. “Keaner looked at him and he said, ‘Are you kidding me?'”
The locker rooms were cramped back then, the facilities pretty sparse. But it really didn’t matter to them, not with all the ability they had assembled.
“We knew we had a great shot at winning and we overlooked all the small problems that we might have faced,” Lemieux said. “History will tell, but for me it was the most talented hockey team I ever played with.”
Over the weeks leading up to the reunion, the players have spoken, chatting about get-togethers. Lemieux is just happy they’re not playing in the season opener, especially with a team dinner Wednesday night.
“No curfew, so we’re pretty excited,” he said.
At 39 years old, Avalanche captain Adam Foote has been feeling rather spry these days, especially surrounded by a cast of younger players.
This reunion, though, almost makes him feel his age. He was on that ’95-96 squad and is one of the few still playing.
Foote is simply not ready to hang up the skates yet.
“I’ll know mentally when that day is,” Foote said.
So on Thursday night, when his former teammates slip off the ice and begin to stroll down memory lane, Foote will be skating on it.
“But I’ll see them all after,” Foote said, smiling. “I’m going to have a lot of guys critiquing my game that day.”
And maybe a little envious he’s still able to play.
Forsberg, who was the NHL’s MVP in 2003, has only played sporadically in recent years because of a bothersome right foot.
Yet he hasn’t completely closed the door on a return.
“It doesn’t look too good, but I haven’t made a 100 per cent decision yet,” he said in September.
Forsberg remains an iconic figure in the Mile High City, his jersey rivalling those of Sakic and Roy in popularity.
“I don’t know if I am popular or not,” he coyly said.
Forsberg can’t wait to hang out with the crew again, including some of his teammates he hasn’t seen in quite a while.
“When you win something, you have a special bond, good memories,” he said.
Sakic couldn’t agree more. He was the longtime face of the franchise, the stoic leader who led the team to another Stanley Cup title in 2001 and still has a permanent stall at the Pepsi Center.
He’s not ruling out a return to the Avalanche in some kind of role down the road.
“Once you’re in the game and it’s part of your life, you never want to leave it,” Sakic said. “But you have to be committed to be able to travel and do the things you need to do to be successful in whatever role you’re doing.
“Right now, I’m enjoying this too much to go to a full-time commitment.”