Then and Now: Joe Sacco

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Joe Sacco played for four different teams in the NHL over 12 seasons before he signed a contract with the Philadelphia Flyers’ organization in January of 2003.

Sacco split time with the Flyers and the Philadelphia Phantoms during the 2002-2003 campaign. After producing four goals and three assists in six games in the AHL, Sacco was called up to the Flyers and spent the rest of the season in the NHL.

He had a total of six points in 34 games for the Flyers with five assists along with 20 PIMs and an even plus/minus rating. The right winger’s only goal came in his first tilt with the Orange and Black, a 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on January 16, 2003. With the game tied at one just minutes into the final period, Sacco beat Jeff Hackett to make it 2-1 and eventually earned the game-winning goal, his 13th and final in his career. Michal Handzus and Chris Therien scored later in the period for Philly, as Richard Zednik was the lone goal scorer for Montreal in the loss.

“Scoring goals is not the main focus to me,” Sacco told ESPN after the win, as his game-winning tally snapped a 76-game goalless streak that lasted nearly 23 months. “I’m here to play good defensive hockey. If I can chip in (offensively) that’s great.”

Jim Vandermeer potted his first career goal in the win as well, as the defenseman tied the game at one in the second period.

As the Flyers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games during the 2003 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and lost to the Ottawa Senators in six games during the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Sacco appeared in four games going pointless with a minus-2 rating. Although Philly had 13 playoff games in 2003, Sacco only suited up for four of them as he missed time due to a concussion and serving as a healthy scratch. He played in Games 1, 2, and 3 against the Maple Leafs and Game 1 against the Senators.

His time in Philadelphia marked the end of his playing career, as Sacco stepped away from hockey altogether for the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 seasons.

He returned in 2005-2006 as an assistant coach for the Lowell Lock Monsters of the AHL, the only season the team was the affiliate for the Colorado Avalanche. Tom Rowe, who is currently the coach of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, was the head coach of a team that featured Cam Ward, Anton Babchuk, Jeff Finger, Kurt Sauer, Johnny Boychuk, Craig Adams, Keith Aucoin, Pavel Brendl, Colin Forbes, Jesse Boulerice, and several other future and former NHLers. The team went 29-37-14 to finish 23rd in the 27-team AHL and missed the playoffs by 13 points.

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For the 2007-2008 season, Sacco became the head coach of the Lake Erie Monsters, a team that formed in 2007 and has always served as an AHL affiliate for the Avalanche. He coached Jose Theodore, Jason Bacashihua, T.J. Hensick, Chris Stewart, and Cody McLeod. Sacco didn’t impress in his first season as head coach, as the Monsters finished 27th in the 29-team AHL finishing just three points ahead of the Lowell Devils with a record of 26-41-13.

He remained head coach of the Monsters for the 2008-2009 season, as several current AHLers and NHLers joined the club as well as former Trenton Titan Randy Rowe. Sacco may have improved his team’s record, but it didn’t amount too much, as his 34-38-8 Monsters finished 25th in the AHL.

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Thanks to the Avalanche firing then head coach Tony Granato after the 2008-2009 campaign, Sacco was hired to replace him. The job was originally offered to Patrick Roy, but the goaltending great turned down the position.

With the help of Steve Konowalchuk, Sylvain Lefebvre, and Jocelyn Thibault on his coaching staff, Sacco was able to turn a team that finished 32-45-5 the year before into a club with a 43-30-9 record without any significant changes in the offseason to help him.

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The 26-point improvement from the previous season helped the Avalanche reach the 2010 playoffs as an eight seed, where they faced the top-seeded San Jose Sharks. Although the Avalanche lost, they pushed the series to six games. One of the games was a 1-0 overtime win in Game 3 to give the Avs a 2-1 series lead. Craig Anderson made 51 saves in the victory, while Ryan O’Reilly was credited with the game-winning goal 51 seconds into overtime on a play where Sharks’ d-man Dan Boyle accidentally whipped a shot into his own net (go to 8:48). This was the last time Colorado was in the playoffs.

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Sacco also served as the assistant coach for the U.S.A. at the 2010 IIHF World Championship. U.S.A. finished 13th out of the 16 teams in the tournament.

Unfortunately for Sacco and the Avs, they finished the 2010-2011 campaign with a record of 30-44-8 for 68 points, one point less than the record Granato was fired with at the end of the 2008-2009 season. Colorado finished 14th in the Western Conference and 29th in the league, as the Edmonton Oilers were the only team to finish worse than them on both accounts.

The one upside to doing so poorly in the 2010-2011 season was that Sacco and his Avs had the second overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. After the Oilers picked Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Colorado picked right winger Gabriel Landeskog.

Sacco improved Colorado’s record to 41-35-6 for a total of 88 points this past season, but it wasn’t enough to get the Avs into the playoffs. The eventual Stanley Cup Winning Los Angeles Kings finished eighth in the Western Conference with 95 points, as the Avalanche finished 11th in the conference.

As for Landeskog, he finished first on the team with 22 goals and third on the team with 52 points. His point production landed him the Calder Trophy and helped him become named the team’s captain for the 2012-2013 season, whenever that begins.