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Captain Sakic gets break from testing as Avalanche open camp

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

DENVER - Avalanche captain Joe Sakic pulled rank Friday and instituted what he called the "old-man rule," thereby getting himself out of fitness testing.

While his teammates went through lactic threshold exams, played catch with a medicine ball and had their leaps measured in standing long jumps, Sakic took it easy.

Not that his teammates begrudged his preferential treatment - they're just glad Sakic decided to keep playing, returning for a 20th season.

"He's starting to look old, though, isn't he?" defenceman John-Michael Liles said with a grin. "Nah. He's Joe. It's great to have him back."

Sakic's return calmed an otherwise turbulent off-season for the Avalanche. The team underwent dramatic changes after being swept by Detroit in the second round of the playoffs.

They lost Jeff Finger, Andrew Brunette, Kurt Sauer and Jose Theodore to free agency and decided to part ways with coach Joel Quenneville, hiring Tony Granato for a second stint.

Granato thinks he's more confident and more relaxed this time than when he inherited the team in 2002.

"You always learn a lot," said Granato, who was replaced by Quenneville in July 2004 and served as an Avalanche assistant, before receiving the promotion. "You try to get better each day."

With Theodore gone, Granato is handing the goaltending duties back to Peter Budaj, who was 16-10-4 last season. Backing him up will be free agent Andrew Raycroft.

"Peter is our go-to guy," Granato said. "He's deserved that. He's proven with what he's done in the past he's ready for it. We're very solid, and very confident in the guys we have in net."

Granato has promised a revamped offence that will play with more tempo, kind of like the Red Wings, who captured the Stanley Cup championship.

"We want to be a speed team, a team that dictates the pace of the game with our quickness," Granato said. "We're excited to get this thing going."

So is Sakic.

"I see a lot of good possibilities for this team, the 39-year-old centre said.

The Avalanche added some grit in the off-season, bringing in Per Ledin, Daniel Tjarnqvist, Darcy Tucker and Brian Willsie.

Avalanche forward Ian Laperriere will take grit any day.

"Detroit won it with skill and speed, it's good to have," Laperriere said. "I still believe in grit. It cracks me up - I'd like to have a (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk, too, but there's only one or two of those guys in the league. You have to find a way to win with grit. We do have skills and we'll bring some grit."

Sakic gave serious consideration to calling it a career after the Avalanche season ended. If Sakic had been forced to make his mind up in June, he probably would've stepped away.

But as the summer wore on, he realized he didn't want to leave the game.

"I got the itch and fire back," Sakic said.

That came as a relief to Laperriere, who pestered Sakic to return with frequent text messages.

"Everybody knows he's still a premier player in this league," said Laperriere, who's already sporting a cut under his eye, the result of a wayward stick in a summer game. "It's very exciting."

Sakic had reason to ponder his future after coming off his most trying season, missing 38 games following hernia surgery.

Despite being banged up, he was still effective, scoring 40 points in 44 games. Sakic enters the season ranked eighth on the NHL career list in points (1,629), 11th in assists (1,006) and 14th in goals (623).

"Him being 100 per cent and feeling excited and ready to go gets everybody else that much more excited," forward Paul Stastny said. "I like what we've got here."

As does Sakic.

"We're all excited to see what we have here," he said.

Sakic scanned the room Friday, smiling as some of his teammates went through comprehensive fitness drills.

"I'm very excited with my testing this year. I passed," Sakic proudly said.

The "old-man rule" served him well.


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