Flames coach Hartley praises Joe Sakic

Joe Sakic shows off his Hall of Fame ring on Monday in Toronto. (Mike Cassese/Reuters)

Joe Sakic shows off his Hall of Fame ring on Monday in Toronto. (Mike Cassese/Reuters)

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:12 PM ET

CALGARY - Sometimes referred to as 'Ordinary Joe' because of his selfless attitude and down-to-earth demeanour, Joe Sakic rarely did anything to irk his teammates.

Except this one time.

It was April 8, 2001 and, as the final minute ticked off the clock in Colorado's regular-season finale against the Minnesota Wild, Sakic needed one more goal to become the all-time leading marksman in the history of the Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques organization.

“We were leading by a goal, so obviously Minnesota pulled their goalie. My plan was to leave Joe on the ice for the entire time because I wanted Joe to get the goal,” recalled Bob Hartley, who spent five seasons (1998-2002) behind the bench for the Avalanche and is now head coach of the Calgary Flames.

“Sure enough, we leave the zone and Joe has the puck and he has open ice — and he passes the puck. Even on the bench, you should have seen the guys' reaction, like, 'Joe, what are you doing?!?'

“(Stephane Yelle) passed the puck back to Joe, and Joe had no choice but to score.”

Now 43, Sakic has no choice but to bask in the spotlight Monday night, when he'll be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Other members of the Class of 2012 include sniper Pavel Bure, setup ace Adam Oates and longtime Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin.

Sakic, who retired in 2009 with 625 goals, 1,641 points and two championships on his lengthy resume, will be remembered for his wicked wrister.

He'll be remembered for retrieving the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in 2001 — two months after erasing Michel Goulet's franchise goal-scoring record that night in Minnesota — and handing the hardware directly to grizzled blueliner Ray Bourque, who had been waiting 23 seasons to get his paws on the prize.

He'll be remembered for his MVP performance at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, including a four-point performance in Canada's 5-2 victory over the U.S. in the gold-medal game.

Hartley, who still keeps in contact with the soft-spoken Avalanche legend, will remember Sakic as “the ultimate franchise player” and as an absolute treat to coach.

“The first year that I took over, I gave him a kid by the name of Milan Hejduk, who could barely even say 'yes' or 'no,' on the right side,” Hartley said. “I was coming in from the minors and I believed a lot in young players and I felt that we had some good young kids coming up, and I wanted to give them a role. So I sat with Joe and I said, 'This year, I would like you to work with me and work on an experiment. I'm giving you Hejduk.' I said, 'He's a kid and he doesn't speak very good English, but I think he can score goals pretty good, and if it doesn't work out, we'll change it.'

“Joe just said, 'Sure, no problem.' The year after, here comes Alex Tanguay, another kid from the Quebec League, another rookie. I said, 'Hey Joe, last year went pretty good with Hejduk so this year, I'll feed you another kid on the left side. You're going to be surrounded by two kids.' And look at what that line produced over the years.

“Many veterans, many captains, would have said, 'Well, why don't you give me (Peter) Forsberg? Why don't you give me this guy or that guy?' But Joe was always team, team, team.

“It was never about Joe.”

Monday is.

Whether Sakic wants it that way or not.

“When you ask me, 'What does a day like this mean for Joe or how do you think he feels?,' I think a big part of Joe Sakic feels uncomfortable,” Hartley said. “Because individual stuff, that's never been part of him.”

wes.gilbertson@sunmedia.ca

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