ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Longtime Wild captain Mikko Koivu ’emotional’ ahead of Sunday’s jersey retirement

The highly anticipated pregame ceremony will start at 5 p.m. sharp before the Wild take on the Nashville Predators.

031322.S.STP.WILDKOIVU.01.jpg
Mikko Koivu (shown being honored in December of 2019 for his 1,000th game with the Wild) will have the former captain’s jersey retired by the team on March 13.
Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

Mikko Koivu recently tried to explain the situation to his 6-year-old son Kasper.

Eventually, Kasper started to get pick up what Dad was putting down. As much as a child can.

“So when I play for the Wild, I can’t wear No. 9?” the younger Koivu asked his father.

Precisely, Kasper.

After a couple of decades in the NHL, the Wild finally will raise a number into the rafters Sunday night at the Xcel Energy Center. The highly anticipated pregame ceremony will start at 5 p.m., ahead of the Wild’s game against the Nashville Predators.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I think the word ‘humbled’ comes to my mind,” said Koivu, a 38-year-old native of Finland who still lives in the Twin Cities. “Like I always said, I was very proud to be a member of the Minnesota Wild.”

Now his name and number will live on forever.

It is the first time in franchise history that the Wild have decided to retire a number — no, the No. 1 banner dedicated to the fans doesn’t count — and it’s fitting that Koivu is at the forefront.

He was and is the Minnesota Wild through and through.

“He had such a long career here in the State of Hockey,” said former teammate Andrew Brunette, now the coach of the Florida Panthers. “He kind of epitomizes what the Minnesota Wild are and how they play and how they conduct their business. He was the face of the franchise for so long. It’s nice to see a number up there.”

While many of the details of the pregame ceremony are under wraps, including what the No. 9 banner will look like, it’s been confirmed that dozens of former teammates will be in attendance, as well as former general manager Doug Risebrough, who picked up Koivu in the first round of the 2001 NHL Draft, and many more who played a key role in his career.

“I don’t think there’s a way to explain how much that means (to me) for each and every individual to be there,” Koivu said. “I just hope that they all know how much they mean to me.”

Most important for Koivu, though, is that his family will be by his side, including parents Tuire and Jukka; older brother Saku, and children Sofie, Kasper and Oskar.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I’m sure it’s going to be emotional,” Koivu said. “Hopefully it’ll also be a fun night for all of us.”

Though the No. 9 became synonymous with Koivu, he actually wore jersey number 21 as a rookie with the Wild. In fact, if it weren’t for former NHL star Mark Parrish, there might be a different number being raised in the rafters Sunday night.

“He came in and he was a veteran player back then, and he had worn No. 21 for his whole career,” Koivu recalled. “He came up to me like, ‘Hey, would you mind if I take No. 21?’ ”

Not surprisingly, Koivu ceded the number to Parrish without much of a fight. Then, after the Wild moved on from former winger Alexandre Daigle, Koivu reached out to head equipment manager Tony DaCosta.

“I called Tony and told him, like, ‘I’d really like No. 9 if it is possible,’ ” Koivu said. “It turned out great.”

Indeed. Originally drafted by the Wild with the No. 6 overall pick, Koivu blossomed into the face of the franchise. He was the team’s first full-time captain, spending the better part of 15 years with the organization and finishing his career as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer by a wide margin with 709 points.

Still, Koivu’s scoring prowess was never his calling card. Instead, he became widely known as a shutdown center, embodying the identity of the Wild.

It’s an identity that legendary coach Jacques Lemaire established in the early stages of the franchise, and a style of play Koivu gravitated to from the moment he stepped onto the ice.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I had that style of hockey coming in from Finland,” Koivu said. “That’s kind of the way we play the game over there. That’s the secret behind our success as a country.”

To this day, Koivu attributes much of his success to Lemaire.

“I felt like he took me to another level,” Koivu said. “That’s something that I truly appreciate what he did to me.”

As much as Koivu’s piercing stare became part of his brand, assistant coach Darby Hendrickson remembers him for a lot more than that.

“He has a side that he doesn’t show all the time where he does laugh and he wants to tell jokes and stuff,” Hendrickson said while setting up the punchline. “Which aren’t funny. He will say jokes and we’ll all go, ‘Huh?’ And he’s laughing.”

In that same breath Hendrickson made sure to bring up Koivu’s work ethic. There was nobody who worked harder than Koivu during his career.

“He’s always had that business-like focus before a game,” Hendrickson said. “I think that was his strength. That’s how he operated. He knew who he was and what it took for him to be prepared every day.”

All of that preparation led Koivu to this point. He still doesn’t know what it’s going to feel like on Sunday night when his number gets raised. He has been to a handful of games this season, and each time, he has tried to imagine the moment.

“You really can’t,” he said. “I think I’ll know after Sunday. You see the jersey and the number up in the rafters, I’m sure it’ll get emotional after that.”

As for Kasper, if someday he makes it to the NHL, and by some stroke of luck ends up playing for the Wild, perhaps Dad will petition to let him wear his number.

“We will talk about that then.” Koivu said with a laugh. “You know, right now we’re in Eden Prairie youth hockey, so we’ll go step by step.”

SPORTS-MIKKO-KOIVU-WONT-BE-RETURNING-MS.jpg
Mikko Koivu watched as his family walked onto the ice Dec. 10 when he was honored for playing in 1,000 NHL games.
Carlos Gonzalez / Star Tribune

Related Topics: MINNESOTA WILD
What To Read Next
Pro
Mats Zuccarello, Kirill Kaprizov, and Freddy Gaudreau all converted in the shootout, while Marc-Andre Fleury made a big save that proved to be the difference
Pro
Minnesota improved its record to 11-4 in January, including winning its last 3 games
Pro
Bradley finished strong to take 2nd place, while Morikawa rounded out the top 3
Pro
What went into the decision to start Marc-Andre Fleury to start three consecutive games for the first time this season?