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Inside the GameJoe Sakic thriving in role as Avalanche exec

Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2013 | 09:05 AM

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Hall of Famer Joe Sakic is thriving in Denver as executive vice-president of hockey operations for the Colorado Avalanche. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) Hall of Famer Joe Sakic is thriving in Denver as executive vice-president of hockey operations for the Colorado Avalanche. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Hall of Famer Joe Sakic is proving just as successful off the ice as he was on it in his new role as executive vice-president of hockey operations for the Colorado Avalanche.

Gentleman Joe Sakic can't wipe the smile off his face these days.

Eleven months after the native of Burnaby, B.C., was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the 44-year-old received the same honour with the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. As an added bonus, Sakic is five months into his role as the executive vice-president of hockey operations of the Colorado Avalanche and his club is a perfect 6-0-0 entering Thursday's game against the Detroit Red Wings.

When Sakic was promoted to his new position on May 10, the first major decision he made was to lure former teammate Patrick Roy to coach the Avalanche. Sakic was aggressive. Within a couple days, he and Avalanche president Josh Kroenke flew to Florida to meet with Roy. The three played a round of golf in Jupiter at the Bear's Club, a world-class golf course founded by the legendary Jack Nicklaus in 1999. Roy agreed to coach the Avalanche a week later.

The decision has been a terrific hire for the Avalanche, which finished 30th last season. Roy's perfect start ties the NHL record for consecutive wins to begin a coaching career, set by Mario Tremblay - ironically, when he coached Roy in 1996. A Colorado win over the rival Red Wings would match the franchise record for its best start at 7-0-0, set when the Avalance were the Quebec Nordiques in 1985-86.

"I played with him as a teammate," Sakic said of Roy.

"He is a tremendous leader. I knew he was a fiery competitor and I knew what he was doing [coaching junior hockey] in Quebec City and the time he spent coaching younger players and how well he did.

"For me, I thought he would be the perfect coach for a younger team. He's been great with them.

"Our players have been buying in. It has been a great relationship and I could not be happier."

'More careful and cautious'

220-sakic-081020.jpgSakic avoided controversy in his playing days, even though he was a superstar in the NHL for 20 seasons. Oh, there was the time when Eric Lindros shunned playing for the Nordiques in the early 1990s, Sakic spoke up and said, "We only want players here who have the passion to play the game. I'm tired of hearing that name. He's not here and there are a lot of others in this locker room who really care about the game."

But for the most part, Sakic let his play on the ice do his talking. He didn't discuss his time playing junior in Swift Current for pedophile Graham James. He rarely talked about the Swift Current bus crash that killed four of his teammates - Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantayka and Brent Ruff - on Dec. 30, 1986.

"The crash made me more careful and cautious about how I do things," he told on the 20th anniversary of the tragic accident.

Yet Sakic stuck by his convictions and hired the sometimes over-emotional Roy, who is no stranger to upsetting a foe.

Asked if he was leery about Roy's temperamental ways, Sakic said: "Not at all. That's what you need.

"He knows how far he can push. He's a fiery competitor and he wants to win. That's what you want in your coach.

"He knows how to deal with it with a younger team. He's been a great teacher for these players. He says he wants to be partners with the players and, right from training camp, that's the way it has developed between him and the players."

'A tremendous honour'

The son of Croatian immigrants, Marijan and Slavica, Sakic won two Stanley Cups with Colorado, but was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame for his duty wearing the Canadian maple Leaf. He was an Olympic champion, a world champion, World Cup of Hockey winner and a world junior championship titleholder. In total, he played 56 international games for Canada.

"It is a tremendous honour," Sakic said before the induction ceremony in Toronto on Wednesday evening.

"When I got the call, you start reflecting back and I remember, as a kid, watching our Canadian Olympians and, obviously, cheering them on.

"You want them to do well. But when you go to an Olympics and get to know them, you realize the time and effort the athletes put in you have a tremendous appreciation for who they are and what they do.

"I've often said the biggest accomplishment for me was just playing in the NHL and just making it. That was a childhood dream.

"I was very fortunate to play on some great teams, whether in Colorado playing for Stanley Cups or playing for your country. I was lucky. I got a chance to play with Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux."

Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC

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