VANCOUVER, British Columbia – If you ask Joe Sakic his favorite city to visit, as a player or GM, it’s this one. And why wouldn’t it? He was born here.
While his NHL player directory always listed Burnaby, B.C., as his birthplace or where he’s from, he actually was born in a hospital in Vancouver and, yes, grew up in Burnaby.
Sakic was and is beloved in this city, even though he absolutely torched the Vancouver Canucks in his playing days with the Avs. In 79 career games against the Canucks, Sakic had 31 goals and 97 points. In the 1996 playoff series against the Canucks, a six-game first-rounder, he had 11 points, including that hat trick in Game 5 that won the rubber game and then he scored the game-winner late in Game 6 to close it out.
My little story here, though, will be about the night he got his 500th goal, right in the building in which the Avs will play later tonight.
It was Dec. 11, 2002, and the Avs were kind of scuffling a little bit. In fact, coach Bob Hartley would be fired by the Avs just six days after this game was played, with a 10-8-9-4 start.
And, in fact, Joe Sakic’s goal on this night was the only one the Avs scored, in a 2-1 loss to the division-leading Canucks. (Derek Morris got the primary assist).
But it was still a special night, one that, if you ask Sakic, ranks among the best memories of his career. As you can see in the video below, Sakic’s parents were on hand to witness it. That by itself made it very special for him.
But to score a landmark goal like that in his hometown, against the team he grew up cheering for, would always be a keeper.
What I most remember about the game was, well, obviously the goal. But what I really remember is Mike Keane sitting right next to me in the press box, grabbing my arm when the puck went in. Keane was on the team for his second tour of duty in that season, but he was injured and up in the box with us ink-stained wretches.
When Sakic’s shot beat Canucks goalie Dan Cloutier, Keane let out a whoop that could be heard everywhere, and he just kind of instinctively grabbed anything around him, which in this case was my arm.
I haven’t seen Sakic so far on this road trip. He might be away doing some, ahem, scouting or something. But I would imagine if there is a place in which he’d rejoin the team on this road trip, it’ll be here. I’m about to drive there, for tonight’s game, so I’ll let you know if I see him.
And if I do, I might ask him, “Remember that night you got your 500th…”