TORONTO — On Oct. 23, 1973, 4-year-old Joseph Steven Sakic sat for the first time in the stands of an NHL game, between the Vancouver Canucks and Atlanta Flames at the Pacific Coliseum. He sat with his father, Marijan, and told him "I want to be a hockey player."
Only, he didn't say it in English. It was in the tongue of his parents' native Croatia.
Zelim biti hokejas.
Thirty nine years later, with Marijan and his wife, Slavica, sitting in the stands of the Esso Theater at the Hockey Hall of Fame, Sakic told his parents something else, this time in English.
"Today I stand here, feeling very blessed," Sakic said Monday night, after being inducted into the Hall of Fame. "I know I couldn't have done this without you guys. I know it wasn't always easy for you. You guys always found a way to help get me what I needed. I can't thnk you enough for that."
On a night when Adam Oates, Pavel Bure and Mats Sundin also were inducted, Sakic was the third player introduced to a crowd that included Sakic's parents, his wife and three children, Avalanche president Pierre Lacroix, former Quebec Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut and former teammates Adam Foote, Michel Goulet and Ray Bourque.
In a taped video before Sakic took the stage, former Avs goalie Patrick Roy talked about why he was so deserving.
"I knew he was good when I came to Colorado, but I never knew how good and how hard he worked," Roy said. "He was a very unselfish player, but he was our leader. When Joe passed the Cup to Ray (in 2001), it's the perfect picture of how he was."
Sakic, the ninth-leading scorer in NHL history and the leader in Avs history, spoke for about five minutes. He didn't shed any tears, but he was emotional nonetheless.
"To all the fans in Colorado and Quebec, thank you," he said.
Proving that he is tri-lingual, at least some, Sakic added, "And for Quebec, merci beacoup."