Avs retire Sakic's number before opener

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.

San Jose defenseman 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 center 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 honors in 2001, and captured an Olympic gold medal as a member of Team Canada in 2002.

Any regrets as he made his way to the ice?

"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."