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Back to the Montreal Canadiens.
"And now, votre capitaine, your team captain, le numero onze, number eleven, Sakuuuu Kooooivu" - Michel Lacroix, Official Introduction of the Montreal Canadiens
Born in 1974 in Turku, Finland, Saku Antero Koivu was drafted in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.
Before moving to North America in 1995, he was playing with a Finnish team named TPS, and won two Finnish Championships before being elected player of the year in 1994. He won the Bronze Medal with team Finland at the Olympic Games in 1994 and 1998. They won the silver medal in 2006.
He was ranked fourth among the NHL rookies and became the best scorer of the NHL till the middle of the season 1996-97 when he suffered of a knee injury.
In 1999, he was handed the biggest responsibility in being named the Captain of the Montreal Canadiens. He is actually the first European Captain in the history of the team.
Pierre Boivin told him: "It happened, you are captain, and you are going to take this team and lead it."
In September 2001, the new dropped and put Montreal and the NHL in shock: the Captain was diagnosed with a Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, in other words, Cancer.
"When you actually hear the word from the doctors in front of you, it is like everything stops", recalled the Captain.
Koivu was expected to miss the entire season.
He laterly decided to build a foundation which would bring a PET scan to the city of Montreal, at the Montreal General Hospital. The nearest one was in Sherbrooke, where Koivu and the medical staff had to drive during those tough times.
"It was a gigantic project, but he said this is what he wanted to do; this is what he wanted to give back to the people of Montreal", tells Canadiens' physician David Mulder.
On April 9th 2006, Saku Koivu returned to the game. When the Captain hit the ice, the crowd gave him a standing ovation of about five minutes, and another one at the first face off. That night, Montreal won 4-3 against the Senators and clinched a playoff spot. He eventually inspired his teammates in eliminating the top seeded Boston Bruins and advance to the second round.
Michel Therrien who was behind the bench declared "This will probably be one of the best days in Montreal Canadiens history."
In the playoffs 2006 against the Carolina Hurricanes, Koivu was hit in the eye by Justin Williams' stick and was out of the game for the remainder of the playoffs. Montreal eventually lost to the Stanley Cup winners 4-2, after leading the series 2-0. He had an eye surgery during the summer 2007.
Statistically, Koivu may not be as shining as - let's say- Alex Kovalev. And a few questions may rise, regarding the Montreal Canadiens record since he's been Captain. Under his lead, the Habs made the playoffs four times, but never advanced beyond the second round. I have heard a lot of Montreal fans suggesting a trade to shake things up.
His highest was in 2006-07, with 75 points in 81 games. He also had a good run during these last playoffs with three goals and six assists in seven games.
Some of you will say that the Koivu era might need to get to an end to finish off the Montreal makeover. Especially with the rise of the young guns, and the Artist behind, questions deserve to be asked.
But if you ask the rookies, like Sergei Kostitsyn, he would tell you to think again. "I am sure I can go and ask questions, but I never have to, because someone like Saku will always come to me first. (...) He has been a huge help for me. I don't know if it is like this in the NHL for rookies, but I am pretty lucky to have Saku looking out for me."
No matter how the future of our Captain will be with the team, or in the NHL, some things are to be remembered and will be.
"Hockey will end for me one day, and all the goals and all the points will mean nothing when it is all said and done. It is the things you do off the ice that last (...) All I can hope is to be remembered for making a difference."
Koivu has spent his entire NHL career so far with the Habs. After thirteen years bleeding Bleu-Blanc-Rouge, will he one day have his name finally written on the ultimate trophy?
*sources: Montreal Canadiens Magazine vol 21.4 and 22.6 and TSN
*Next spotlight: Christopher Higgin