Joe Sakic and Scott Stevens are two entirely different types of hockey players, yet, they have one thing in common on the ice.

Sakic is a Colorado Avalanche centre, a goal scorer with deceptive acceleration who darts into openings to deliver quick and accurate shots.

Stevens is a New Jersey Devils defenceman, a basher with a physical presence that intimidates opponents.

The thing that is the same is their ability to lead, which is why, when they take to the ice for the deciding game of the NHL's championship series Saturday night, they'll be the only men with the C on their jerseys.

They are the captains, and for good reasons.

"He's one of the hardest-working guys I've been around," Colorado's Adam Foote says of his long-time teammate. "He never stops working at his game, his shot, and he works hard in the gym.

"He's one of those guys that really is always composed and leads by example. He's done that for many years for this organization. He really stepped it up this year. He gave us a statement early on. He said, 'Hey, I'm going to get this team going.' And he did. He was our MVP and maybe the MVP of the league. He's always worked hard, and he'll continue to work hard. That's just his nature."

It was Sakic who accepted the Stanley Cup on behalf of his club when the Avalanche won it in 1996. Then he was presented with the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

"I think he's the ultimate leader here," says teammate Rob Blake. "He was the best player in the league this year.

"He's done everything possible for this organization from day one through the tough times and to the good times. He's the guy all of us look up to."

Coach Bob Hartley identifies Sakic as "the ultimate professional."

"He is always open to suggestions, always comes up with good input," says Hartley. "It is fun to deal with Joe Sakic because every day there's a fun part of Joe Sakic and there's the pro part of Joe Sakic, the Joe Sakic that wants to compete, the Joe Sakic that wants to win, but also the Joe Sakic that thinks of what he could do to improve team spirit or make another teammate feel better."

Neither Sakic, 30, from Burnaby, B.C., nor Stevens, 37, from Kitchener, Ont., are prone to delivering dressing room speeches. They do their talking on the ice.

"He's not a rah-rah guy," Devils' teammate John Madden says of Stevens. "He comes to the rink, and he works hard every day and leads by example.

"He's ready to lead us in all scenarios and situations. He never overreacts."

It was Stevens who accepted the Stanley Cup on behalf of his club when the Devils won it in 1995 and again in 2000, when he won the Conn Smythe honour.

"He's a tremendous on-ice leader -- the way he plays, the way he competes," says teammate Bobby Holik. "All he has accomplished in his 18-year career speaks for itself.

"You can not say enough to really put on paper what he means to this organization."

Coach Larry Robinson is asked what traits make Stevens a good captain.

"Well, just his work ethic and his dedication," Robinson replies. "I think you have different kinds of captains.

"You have got the vocal captains, the rah-rah type of fellows that stand up and kind of take charge. Scotty is more of a quiet leader. He is your hardest worker in practice. He is your hardest worker in games.

"He is one of the most dedicated players that I have seen as far as looking after himself and making sure that he is ready for the games, both physically and mentally. I think that's what guys look upon mostly, and his uncanny way of sometimes just finding a way with a big hit or a big play to give the guys a lift."

Sakic missed two games during the second playoff round with a shoulder injury, returning to the lineup sooner than he would have during the regular season.

Stevens had an ice pack on a sore left knee after the morning skate Saturday.

They soldier on.

Only one will get to hoist the Stanley Cup again on Saturday night, but Sakic and Stevens proved long ago that they both are winners.

By Neil Stevens