When last year's Jack Adams Award was given for top coach, the winner was Phoenix's Dave Tippett. Third was Colorado's Joe Sacco, who in his first season helming the Avs lead them to a 95 point season which was good enough for the Western Conference's eighth seed. Longtime Caps fans could take pride in knowing two of their alumni had nabbed two of the top three spots in the voting.
In baseball, one often notices that some of the best managers are the former journeymen or role players on the team. Notice how many catchers are in managerial positions in Major League Baseball. Often catchers who were backups on their team at that. The same can often be said about role players in hockey. Some of the most successful coaches in hockey were the ones who spent their NHL playing careers on the third or fourth lines, or perhaps even shuttling back and forth between the AHL and NHL. Dan Bylsma and Bruce Boudreau did the latter. Joe Sacco and Dave Tippett did the former and both were defensively responsible, penalty killing forwards who made a good playing career with hard work and excelling at the game's basics.
Sacco himself alluded to this in a 2009 Boston Globe article,
I considered myself a support player, a journeyman, I certainly wasn't in the NHL for my goal scoring [a total of 94], that's for sure. It's no secret...I wasn't overly skilled. But I worked hard, and you can overcome a lot in this game if you are committed. Look at me. I was a third- or fourth-line guy, a defensive forward, I killed penalties, played hard, showed up and competed. By doing that, I was able to scratch, claw, and survive for 13 years in the NHL.
Sacco was born in 1969 in Meaford, Massachusetts. A very hockey-centric community, the area fostered not only Joe and his brother David, but also future NHLer Keith Tkachuk. The Sacco brothers were successful in high school hockey and both went on to an even more fruitful playing career at Boston University. Joe scored 52 points in his junior year and was a major key in winning the Beanpot tournament over Harvard. Sacco chose BU to stay close to home and to give his parents a chance to see him play. While in university, Sacco also played in the 1988 World Juniors for Team USA.
Drafted in the 4th round (#71 overall) of the 1987 draft by the Toronto (coincidentally brother David would be drafted by Toronto in the 4th round the following year), Sacco would spend his first few years with the Leafs AHL affiliate for the most part. He also represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympics and the 1992 and 1994 World Championships. Anaheim claimed him in the expansion draft and Sacco finally found a permanent starting role in the NHL
In 1994-1995, Sacco had a career year points wise scoring 19g 18a and 37 points in a full 84 game season. One thing that always stuck out with Sacco was his blazing speed. At 6'1 195 lbs, Sacco used this speed effectively on the penalty kills to dump and chase pucks out of the neutral zone. The next three and a half seasons with the Mighty Ducks saw Joe score between 18 and 29 points and reaching double digits in goals three times. His plus/minus totals also improved. At the trade deadline in the 1997-98 season the Ducks sent him to the Island in a trade of role players which saw players such as Travis Green and J.J. Daigneault change uniforms. The final 25 games with the Isles had him potting three goals which combined with the 8 for Anaheim saw him reach double digits in goals once more (and for the final time in his career he would do so).
His 1998-99 season for the Isles was a struggle for Sacco as his line read 3g 0a in 73 games played and an unsightly -24. The Caps decided to take a flyer on Joe and he was signed as a free agent by the Caps in August of 1999. His first season in DC was as a third-fourth line RW and a component of the penalty killing squad, His line in 1999-00 read 7g 16a 23 points and a +7. Although his points went down to 14 the following year, he still scored 7 goals for the Caps. Although not a noted pugilist he didn't shy away from was dropping the mitts as can be seen in tilts with future TV talking heads Matthew Barnaby and Keith Jones.
After one final appearance for team USA at the Worlds on 2002 and a final goalless (0g 7a in 65 games played)season in 2001-2002 for the Caps, Joe played a final year for the Flyers and for their AHL affiliate Phantoms. He then took a couple seasons off hockey before being lured back into coaching with Colorado's AHL team, the Lake Erie Monsters. After past star Patrick Roy passed on the Avalanche coaching gig before last season, the team hired from within and named Sacco to the position. Flanked by past NHLers Steve Konowalchuk, Sylvain Lefebvre and Adam Deadmarsh as members of the coaching staff, Sacco has helped bring veteran smarts and at times, needed tough love, to a young Avs team. On coaching younger players, Sacco has said,
I enjoy working with young players trying to help them further their career and trying to show them what it takes to be a good consistent pro. For a lot of them that’s that biggest thing, is learning what it takes, all the little things that goes along with being a professional.
Happy 42nd Joe!