Now Sacco will try to move mountains
Joe Sacco is on the move again, which is not only a testament to his desire to stay in hockey, but also a reflection of his family genes. When he hung up the skates six years ago, after 738 NHL games, Sacco eventually headed to Woburn, where he joined his father's business, Sacco Specialized Moving.
"I took about a year off after hockey," Sacco recalled Friday, some 24 hours after being named the coach of the Colorado Avalanche. "And then I was slowly diving into that business, working in the office. I was enjoying it, but then I got a call . . ."
And thus began Sacco's warp-speed ascent to directing an NHL bench. Craig Billington, the former Bruins goalie, was at the other end of that call. A key member of the Avalanche front office, Billington wanted to know if Sacco, the former Boston University standout, would be interested in joining the AHL's Lowell Lock Monsters as an assistant coach.
"I'd had this strong passion to get back in the game somewhere, maybe coaching or scouting, something," recalled Sacco, speaking from Toronto, where his 13-year-old son, Joe, was set to play in a weekend hockey tournament. "Toward the end of my career, I began to pay closer attention to the coaching aspect of the game. Or, hey, maybe I was just listening to my coaches a little more after all those years."
The season in Lowell turned into another year as an assistant in Albany, which is where the Hurricanes and Avalanche shared their AHL franchise. The following season, when the Avalanche decided to run their own AHL affiliate in Cleveland, Sacco was promoted to head coach.
Two years later, only days after Patrick Roy turned down an opportunity to coach the Avalanche, the 40-year-old Sacco was named to direct the bench as part of the franchise's massive overhaul that included the firing of head coach Tony Granato. After four seasons in the minors, only two as the top bench boss, Sacco now has charge of a bench that will see considerable change after the franchise's 2008-09 belly-flop.
"I considered myself a support player, a journeyman," said the Medford-raised Sacco, framing part of the message he'll preach on his new job. "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. I told the [AHL] kids that a lot, that you can carve out a niche, work hard, stay professional, and you can stay in this game a long time.
"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.
"There are important roles to fill on every team in the NHL. If you can come to terms with that, find what works for you, you can do it a very long time."
Sacco will be back in Denver tomorrow for meetings with the front office, reviewing existing talent and projecting how the parts will fit together for 2009-10. Ex-Avalanche defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre, his assistant for two years in Cleveland, will join him behind the bench. A second assistant must be added.
As for the net, the most important position on any hockey team, ex-Bruin Andrew Raycroft will be an unrestricted free agent July 1, and Peter Budaj is a restricted free agent. The Avalanche could use both a franchise defenseman and a No. 1 goaltender. The acquisition of one or both no doubt would make Sacco's transition back to the big time a lot easier.
Other than that, one of Sacco's longtime acquaintances suggested, all he really has to do is employ all the lessons espoused by BU coach Jack Parker during Sacco's Terrier days.
"Oh, absolutely," chuckled Sacco, who starred for three seasons, 1987-90 on Commonwealth Avenue prior to turning pro with the Toronto organization. "Jack was certainly a good influence on a lot of us."
Parker also tutored David Sacco, Joe's younger brother, who remains in the front office of Sacco Specialized Moving. For now, older brother Joe keeps on trucking.
"I wasn't expecting this job," said Joe. "I figured Patrick was going to be in Denver and I'd be back with my family in Westlake [Ohio] for at least another year in the AHL. And that wouldn't have been so bad, because that's a great organization - great owners, great fans, we loved it there.
"But, like playing, you have to be flexible when you choose coaching, and timing's got a lot to do with it. Make the most of your chances, right? And I know this is one great opportunity."
Olympic participation doesn't get ringing endorsementCommissioner Gary Bettman provided a state-of-the-NHL synopsis last weekend, just hours before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, and he didn't tamp down rumors that the 2010 Games in Vancouver very well could be the end of the league's Olympic involvement.
"I think the time element between Sochi [Russia, site of the 2014 Games] and the East Coast of North America is eight hours," noted the commish. "So if you do the math, there won't be any games on in Sochi in prime time in North America. I think it will run anywhere from 4 a.m. to 2 in the afternoon that games would be on. That is something that we'll have to consider."
Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, speaking as a club owner and not in his role as the league's chairman of the board, said in this space weeks ago that he doesn't see the virtue in shutting down the league for the better part of two weeks to allow the game's best and brightest to ship off to Olympus. He said he doesn't believe the exercise, which began with the 1998 Games in Nagano, has provided the league with the kind of worldwide marketing bump that was envisioned.
Meanwhile, the players and their union continue to believe it's both fun and critical for them to participate in the Games. No better way, they say, to stamp the NHL shield on the world map.
Where is it headed? No doubt it will be a key issue again when the sides convene in two or three years - well ahead of puck drop in Sochi - to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement. The players will remain steadfast in their desire to go. Chances are, the owners will capitulate.
"When we were in Salt Lake City , and I know when we're in Vancouver - terrific," said Bettman. "We're in North America. North American time zones, prime time TV. When we're in Japan and Italy , not so good."
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.