Joe Sakic was a son of a bitch.
That was the sentiment for most Detroiters during the mid-1990’s. As a team, the Red Wings had just come out of a surly period where the team was commonly referred to as “The Dead Wings” around Hockeytown. You could get tickets for free. People were that desperate to be rid of them. That all changed around 1994-95. Sure, they’d made the playoffs before, but they’d get bounced by San Jose or Chicago. It was around 1995 when the Red Wings started to sniff the cup. The city took notice. Tickets were no longer given, but sold for a king’s ransom. We were Hockeytown again.
In 1995, the Red Wings fought their way past the hated Chicago Blackhawks to earn the right to face the Jersey Devils for the cup. That same year, the Quebec Nordiques had been bounced in six games by the NY Rangers. Detroit was swept in the finals, but we had loads of young talent and some of the best scrappers in the game. We had the Captain Steve Yzerman, a fresh Sergei Federov, and brawlers like Darren McCarty. It was hard not to feel confident going into that 1996 season.
That next year, those Nordiques who’d been swept up moved to the West. They moved to our division. They put up a 16-6 record and scored 80 goals. They bested those hated Blackhawks in 6, while Detroit held off the Blues in 7 games. Those upstarts were all that stood in the way of us getting our first Stanley Cup in 41 years.
Game one was a gutsy 3-2 overtime win by the Avs. They carried some confidence after that and took game 2 by a 3-0 score. The Wings came back to win Game 3, but weren’t able to seize any sort of momentum. The series became a back and forth affair and with a two game advantage, the Avs came away with a 4 games to 2 semi-final win. Sakic had 10 points in the series with four goals. He scored twice and added an assist in the clinching game to put us away. Sakic went on to power the Avs to a Stanley Cup over the Florida Panthers and took home to Conn Smythe. His stat line was ridiculous (18 goals, 16 assists, and 34 points).
Sakic was a son of a bitch.
His teams were, if you asked any Detroiter, the dirty bunch of thugs to hit the ice in some time. Sakic was a pretty boy front runner. We absolutely hated the man, but as a young card collector, you still got excited if you got his card in a pack. Still, should you get doubles; it was your obligation to burn one.
Still, Sakic and his band of goons only inspired the Wings to work harder and acquire more talent. Looking back, I can see how the Wings in those un-capped days were much like the Yankees in baseball. We got some guys you’d never believe a Detroit corwd would cheer for to come in and become crucial members of the team. Chris Chelios came over from the Blackhawks. We got Luc Robitaille, then Brett Hull. These were guys from rival squads that were loathed and then became not only special players, but beloved. Chelli was welcomed so much that he opened a series of Chelli’s Chili bars around the Detroit area.
What Sakic did in 1996 both pissed off and inspired Detroit. We became Hockeytown in response to Sakic and the Avs. We grew one of the most intense and talked about hockey rivalries from that 10 point, 6 game series Sakic had against the Wings. Sakic gave me a lot of frustration, but also some of my best sports moments. He was one of those players that you hated, but that you also knew you had to respect. If there were a Detroit-specific dictionary, Sakic and the Avs would be used as an example under the term grudging respect, but also under many words that I choose not to list here. Suffice it to say that most of them are four letter words and some may be preceded by “mother”.
It was announced today that Joe Sakic would be inducted along with Adam Oates, Mats Sundin, and Pavel Bure as the newest members of the hockey hall of fame. All of them were fierce goal scorers and few people who rooted for their rivals were sad to see them retire. I have to admit now, that I’m glad to see Sakic get his due. He was a son of a bitch on the ice. I hated seeing him in that sweater with that big, stinking foot on it. Still, you have to admire the fact that he wore that sweater for 14 years. He would’ve worn it all twenty had the team not been the Quebec Nordiques for six years before that. He compiled 1641 points including 625 goals in his career; the most points out of the four men inducted today. In a fact that might have made him smile a little, Sakic was inducted in his first year, while former Red Wing and rival Brendan Shanahan was left out in his first year of eligibility. Joe Sakic was a hell of a player, but in Detroit he’s still a bastard.
the colorado avalanche nhl hockey team from denver, colorado
do you remember the avs / red wings rivalry back in the 90s? that shit was sick-nasty bomb-diggity, yo.