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Avalanche retire sweater of Joe Sakic in ceremony before season opener

Joe Sakic, left, greets Coloraod Avalanche left winger David Koci while visting the team's locker room before a ceremony to mark Sakic's retirement before the team's home opener of the NHL season against the San Jose Sharks in Denver on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/David Zalubowski)

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Joe Sakic, left, greets Coloraod Avalanche left winger David Koci while visting the team's locker room before a ceremony to mark Sakic's retirement before the team's home opener of the NHL season against the San Jose Sharks in Denver on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/David Zalubowski)

DENVER - Joe Sakic would typically rather retreat from the spotlight than bask in it.

Always a humble and reserved player, the longtime Colorado Avalanche captain doesn't like a fuss to be made over him.

He made an exception Thursday night.

This was his evening.

Sakic's No. 19 sweater was raised to the rafters at Pepsi Center before the season opener against San Jose. His number is just the third retired since the Avalanche relocated to Denver in 1995, joining Patrick Roy (33) and Ray Bourque (77).

The capacity crowd gave Sakic numerous ovations during a lengthy ceremony that featured a look back on his 20-year career, video highlights, and a speech from team president Pierre Lacroix.

The current cast of Avalanche players all came out to watch the show, sitting on the bench decked out in Sakic jerseys. Former teammates Alexei Gusarov, Shjon Podein and Pierre Turgeon were in attendance, and Peter Forsberg came in from Sweden, but didn't make himself available to the media.

San Jose defenceman Rob Blake took in the celebration as well, listening as Sakic delivered his speech. Blake helped Sakic and the Avalanche win a Stanley Cup title in 2001.

Usually not one for speeches, Sakic enjoyed this moment. He was back on the ice, even if it was in a dark suit and purple tie.

"I didn't think I'd be able to hold up," he said. "As soon as I got on the ice I felt comfortable. It was great."

In the middle of his talk, though, a fan blurted out, "One more time, Joe!"

"I don't know if I can do that," Sakic responded.

Unlike his retirement speech in July, Sakic kept the tears at bay.

Not that it was easy.

Sakic had a camera following him as he made his way from outside the arena to centre ice, his every movement captured and shown on the big screen inside.

He greeted coaches in the hallway and then walked into the Avalanche dressing room, where his former locker had his jersey hanging on a hook.

The stall is his - forever. It's a gift from the team.

"They didn't even give me a heads-up on that so when I walked in the room and saw that, I did a double take," Sakic said. "When I saw it I almost broke down. Then I saw (Adam) Foote coming over and I was like, 'Uh oh, cameras are on. I can't cry.' Never in my dreams could I imagine that."

Sakic walked out of the dressing room and onto the ice, waving to the crowd as he sauntered along the burgundy carpet to where his family, Lacroix and team owner Stanley Kroenke were waiting.

A few words, more highlights, a couple of gifts - including two paintings - another round of ovations, his jersey raised to the rafters and then it was over.

Just like that, the team said farewell to the face of the franchise.

Sakic leaves the game among the NHL's career scoring leaders, winding up eighth in points (1,641), 11th in assists (1,016) and 14th in goals (625). He also guided the team to two Stanley Cup titles, won league MVP honours in 2001, and captured an Olympic gold medal as a member of Team Canada in 2002.

Taking in the ceremony on the bench was Avalanche rookie Matt Duchene, who was drafted with the third overall pick in June. He grew up with posters of Sakic adorning his walls.

If his first NHL game wasn't enough excitement, his childhood idol was being honoured, too.

"If I think about it, it definitely feels surreal," Duchene said. "Just focus on business. ... I'm not trying to get caught up in boyhood stuff."

After the first period, there were video testimonials on the big screen as Roy, and former opponents Steve Yzerman, Jarome Iginla and Mike Modano paid tribute to Sakic.

"Throughout my career, I always tried to emulate the way you shot the puck," said Yzerman of Sakic. "After (20) years, I finally gave up."

Sakic has had quite a few honours bestowed upon him in recent days. The city named a street outside the stadium after him - Joe Sakic Way - and Colorado Governor Bill Ritter proclaimed Oct. 1 as "Joe Sakic Day" around the state.

Any regrets about retirement?

"I know I made the right decision," Sakic said. "Hockey is my life. It's given me everything and I'm so lucky to play it. When it's time to go, it's time to go."

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Did the Colorado Avalanche overpay Ryan O'Reilly (two years, $6 million per)?




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