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No ordinary Joe -- Sakic
By Jim Stevens

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As much as fans and media from around North America would like you to believe otherwise, Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic did not recently emerged from Siberia to become the scoring sensation of the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In fact, Sakic has been among the best players in the NHL since his 1988/89 rookie campaign. But because Sakic labored in Quebec City for one of the league’s worst franchises—his Nordiques teams played a grand total of just 12 playoff games in seven seasons—many failed to take notice. And since it’s in the playoffs where stars are born and legends grow, it was only this spring that Sakic got to showcase his enormous talent for a national audience—adding a new name to that list of playoff legends in the process. Sakic led the Stanley Cup tournament in scoring, notching 18 goals and 16 assists in 22 games, and copped the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. And as befitting a man who was his team’s only “go-to” guy for years, Sakic’s playoff goals always seemed to be big ones. His six game-winners broke a record held by Mike Bossy, Jari Kurri, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Smith, and vaulted the Burnaby, BC, native into the Stanley Cup stratosphere.

At the conclusion of the playoffs, Sakic reflected on winning the Stanley Cup after enduring multiple losing seasons with the Quebec franchise. “The most satisfying thing is that I have started from scratch, right from the bottom.” Now the Avalanche captain, who granted the following interview shortly before the playoffs began—is living life a mile high: in Denver and on the wings of his first Stanley Cup.

As a youngster, were you always a better stickhandler and playmaker than your teammates?

I’ve always been a pretty good stickhandler since I was a kid. Me, along with my brother, practiced a lot. When we weren’t doing anything at home, my dad would have us go downstairs and stickhandle. We had a nice smooth floor down there and we would play with the puck and stickhandle for a half-hour or so. We did that quite a bit as kids. We would use a regular ice hockey puck on that floor, and that is where I picked up a lot of my stickhandling skills.


How do you explain your outstanding playmaking abilities, your vision on the ice?

I think that is just natural. You either have it or you don’t. I don’t know how you work on that. Just when you have the puck, you have to look around. If you see the open man, you’ve got to get the puck to him. I don’t really work on that.


Do you do anything special today to work on your stickhandling?

No. We practice every day, so you are naturally going to keep your skills when you do that. As a kid, in the summers in Vancouver, we always went to a place called Four Rinks and played almost everyday.


Another thing you are known for is the quick release of your shot. Do you do anything special to work on that?

First off, you shoot a lot in practice. During practice time or in the summers, when you get the puck, you should shoot it as quick as you can and not really worry too much about where the puck ends up. Just get it away quick. The more you do that, then you can start concentrating on hitting the net and then picking your spots.


Talk about your most potent weapon, your wrist shot.

I use it almost all the time. I rarely use the slapshot. Even from the point, I will most often use the wrist shot and just try to get it through the forward and hope it makes it to the net.


Do you have a ‘book’ on goalies around the NHL?

No. Usually our goalie coach or somebody who knows the other goalie will say where a particular goalie’s weak spots could possibly be. For the most part, I just try to get it away quick and surprise the goalie. Goalies [at the NHL level], if they have time, they can read the play and they will have time to stop it. So if you can get it away quick and catch them by surprise, that will give you a better opportunity to score.


So when you enter the offensive zone, you don’t necessarily look for an opening?

I look to just get it away quick and hopefully it will hit a corner. The corners I shoot for may depend on whether I am facing a stand-up or butterfly goalie. Many times I’ll just try to shoot low.


Are their some goalies you have more success on then others?

There are a lot of good goalies. It all depends on whether a goalie is hot or not. If a goalie is hot, he is going to stop just about everything. If a goalie is having an off night, you might get a couple on him. It all depends on how they’re playing.

Do you ever study film on other goalies or teams?

Not really. Some-times we’ll sit down and watch other team’s power play and penalty killing.

How do you rate yourself at taking draws?

Actually, I’m not that good on faceoffs. That is something that I have to work on. Some guys I am good against and others I’ll have difficulty with. I think all players are like that. I probably have more trouble with the player who tries to tie up my stick, or tie me up with his body and then win it with their skates.

You supposedly did not make the 1991 Canada Cup team because of your weak skating. Is that true, and did you work on your skating after that?

They just said I had weak legs. We had a strength coach come in, Lorne Goldenberg, with Quebec, along with assistant coach Jacques Martin [now Ottawa’s head coach] and they gave me some leg workouts in the summer—working with plyometrics, and other things like that. My skating is now significantly improved.


What is plyometrics?

That’s where you hop around a lot on one leg. It looks pretty silly when you are doing it. (NOTE: Plyometrics is better defined as a workout that emphasizes jumping and hopping for an extended period to build strength and explosiveness in the legs).


Is there any other facet of your game you hope to improve?

Every year you want to get better. By gaining more experience, you can get better at doing the little things. I’d obviously like to get better defensively every year.


You’ve been using a new stick this year. Why did you switch, and has it helped you?

I switched to an Easton graphite stick this year. It is whippier than the sticks I used to use. Before, I used to use a really stiff stick, and this one gives you a better snap to your shot. Prior to this year, I used a wood stick almost all the time, but they were also much stiffer sticks.

Is their a certain type of linemate you prefer to have?

You like to have wingers that go to the net. For my game, I’m more of a playmaker, so the winger that goes to the net is better for me. Last year, my linemates, Wendel Clark and Andrei Kovalenko, are no longer on the team. The guys I have this year, Adam (Deadmarsh) and Scott (Young), have great speed. So that always helps out defensively.


As the team captain, what kind of leader are you?

I’m quiet. I don’t say too much in the dressing room. We have a lot of guys, or a few guys that speak up in the dressing room. I’m not one of the talkers. I just try to do it by working right and working hard in practice. When I have something to say, I say it. Its not my personality to be vocal like a Mark Messier, so there is no point in changing.




This first appeared in the 09/1996 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2003, Hockey Player® LLC and Hockey Player Magazine®
Posted: Feb 5, 2007, 07:28
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