INSTANT REPLAY: “Burnaby Joe” was once “North Shore Joey” Sakic
Long before Joe Sakic was “Burnaby Joe,” the blue-collar NHL hall-of-famer; he was “North Shore Joey” Sakic of the North Shore Winter Club.
Oh sure, little Joey did live in Burnaby. Yet – despite residing right beside the arena where the Burnaby Minor Hockey Association was located – the reputation of the North Shore Winter Club was all the incentive the Sakic family needed in order to take the seemingly almost-daily trek across the Second Narrows Bridge so that Joey and younger brother Brian could play for NSWC teams and so younger sister Rosemarie could figure skate on the ice where Karen Magnussen learned to create her magic.
While it was Joey – it was never Joe back then – who became the no-question-about-it Hockey Hall of Fame selection in his first year of eligibility, all the Sakic kids were gifted athletes.
In fact Brian played seven years of pro hockey and Rosie became an accomplished skater under coach Linda Brauckmann and eventually became a figure skating coach herself.
Beginning at age seven, Joey played for the Barons in the NSWC’s Peanut (now Novice) house league and the following year with the White Lightning. There were no rep teams at that level.
John Bartok, who coached Joey for the next four years (two NSWC Atom-division rep teams and two in Peewee), recalled
those years the other day as the Hockey Hall of Fame prepares for the induction ceremony of Sakic, Pavel Bure, Adam Oates and Mats Sundin coming up Nov. 12.
“Joey was just a wonderful young guy,” he remembers, “He was just a tremendous skater. Hugely gifted. Yep. Just like Dave Tomlinson [who went on to play 15 years of pro hockey in the NHL and Europe and is now the colour commentator on Canuck broadcasts]. They had it right from day one. You couldn’t teach that stuff. It was just there. There were a lot of outstanding players on that team. So I was really lucky to be associated with all those kids.
“Because he [Joey] was such a great skater, I got him to shoot from either foot. Joey could let that thing go from either side. He didn’t have to plant his foot or anything. That was the greatest thing he could do in my opinion.”
Sakic – in case you’ve been asleep for 25 years or don’t have a clue about hockey – has done everything possible in the game: 20 NHL seasons, captain of the Quebec Nordiques and Colorado Avalanche for 17 years, two Stanley Cups, three Olympics including MVP in 2002 in Salt Lake, 625 goals, 1641 points (9th most all-time), jersey number retired…
Pat Schmidt, who played on those house and Atom rep teams with Sakic more than 30 years ago now, recalls, “He had a ton of natural skills and was able to maneuver with the puck very fluently. He was very agile with the puck. When you’re that age, you’re often chasing the puck. He wasn’t. The puck was with him and he was moving with it.
“When he first started playing in the NHL, he was Joe Sakic,” says Pat. “No,” he laughs at the recollection, “he was Joey.”
Wade Bartok – like many of those who played at the NSWC back then – still plays the game on a regular basis and his hockey connections are endless. While we chat in the office at his Elite Xpress auto body shop, he clicks on his computer and presto, up come the statistics (games, goals, assists, penalties, right down to plus/minus stats) as of Jan. 9, 1979, for the 1978-79 Atom rep team pictured on Page 8.
Joey, one of two “underage” players on the team is listed with 33 goals and 53 points, both ranked third behind Gary Knight (40 goals, 66 points) and Pat Bugos (36 and 60). Tomlinson – in 36 games, six fewer than the others – had 30 goals and 49 points.
“Joey was pretty quick,” Wade acknowledges when asked what he remembers about Sakic. “But it has always been his shot, his quick release. I spoke to Dave Tomlinson about Joe; he says he remembers he was small, didn’t like to pass too much but had a great shot. Pretty much what I remember.”
Then Wade points to a thin white line on the front of his chin. You see, Wade just has to look in the mirror to remember Sakic.
It was in a Bantam rep game, Wade explains, after Sakic left the NSWC to play with the Burnaby Minor Hockey Association. “Joey was my check. He cross checked me and I got cut right here. He got a five-minute penalty. Today he would have been out of the game. Then he scored the game-winning goal in overtime.”
Wow. Some people have Sakic’s autograph on a stick. Wade has a chin autographed by Sakic’s stick.
After six-plus seasons of hockey and figure skating at the NSWC, the Sakic kids had left the club in 1982. It seems their dad was unhappy that Joey was put on the Bantam rep “B” team, rather than the “A” team, after pre-season tryouts.
Mark Humphrey, then just 21, who was brought onto the coaching staff as a defensive specialist and was involved in the decision as to which team Joey would start the season with, has endured plenty of good-natured ribbing over the years about that decision.
“It was a long time ago,” he offers, “but if I vaguely recall correctly, it wasn’t really for a lack of talent, it was more for lack of effort. I hate to say that because that’s not going to put him in all that great a light.”
Of course, one of Sakic’s fortes while playing in the NHL was his work ethic. Sakic himself was once quoted as saying, “We never had it easy growing up. Dad worked for everything we had. He never let me off the hook. In hockey it was the same thing: ‘Get out there and work.’”
So Mark and the rest of the coaching staff were just trying to reinforce that.
“That,” agrees Mark, “would be my side of the story because you can only imagine the ribbing I’ve taken over the years. Friends and family have been giving me the gears for years about that.
As the hall-of-fame ceremony draws closer, someone in the media is sure to refer to Sakic as Burnaby Joe.
Burnaby Joe? Nah, around the NSWC he was Joey. So let’s call him North Shore Joey.
This is episode 469 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.