As the Minnesota Wild consoled each other after their 4-3 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks, ending their season and their chance to play their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs, one had to believe that the only permanent captain the team has ever had was overcome with uncertainty and emotion. Would this be Mikko Koivu’s last time wearing the Forest Green and Iron Range red?
Possibly the last game of Mikko Koivu's career. One can imagine there's a lot going on in his head right now. pic.twitter.com/2CVHkzF2wO— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) August 8, 2020
But no matter what Koivu (and general manager Bill Guerin) decide in the coming days or weeks, if this was the Kaptain’s last rodeo, he certainly has a number of memorable moments over his 15-year NHL career.
Today, we at Hockey Wilderness honor Mikko by remembering the top nine moments of No. 9’s stellar career with the Minnesota Wild.
1. Koivu’s first point
Just two games into a career that would end with the Finnish centerman holding nearly every team record, Koivu scored his first NHL point against the (then “Mighty”) Anaheim Ducks. It was a goal that would definitely be a portent of a career to come...
2. Backhand, top shelf
As much as NHL fans love to hate on the shootout as a way to decide hockey games, for Wild fans, at least they were given an opportunity to watch a one-on-one master make his signature move. And since the shootout was introduced in 2005-06, Koivu would frequently come at the opposing goaltender with the same strategy.
Forehand, backhand, top shelf. Like clockwork.
In later years as goalies got wise, Koivu would switch up his moves, but it was always a treat to watch the silky smooth, blink-and-you-miss-it backhander tickle the twine above the netminder’s left shoulder. It’s hard to narrow down which shootout was the best, so we’ll leave that up to you.
3. Oh captain, my Kaptain
New head coach Todd Richards didn’t have a ton of positive impact during his two-year stint as the Wild’s bench boss. But one of his first decisions did have a lasting effect on the team for years to come. From their inception and through the Jacques Lemaire era, the Wild rotated their captaincy every month.
That is, until October 20, 2009.
Richards named Koivu the permanent captain for the 2009-10 season, and he’s proudly worn the C every season since.
The Kaptain had arrived.
4. Mikko dives to strike Lightning
One of Koivu’s most memorable goals came during the 2008-09 season, when Mikko sprawled to beat Mike Smith of the Tampa Bay Lightning to score a diving, backhanded goal for the eventual game-winner in their 4-2 victory over the Bolts.
Perhaps his acrobatic goal inspired Mikael Granlund to score his epic Game 6 overtime winner five years later?
5. Cinco de Mikko
The 2008-09 season was one of the best for Koivu, as he finished fourth in the Selke voting and earned his only NHL All-Star Game appearance. Games like the one he had against the Florida Panthers on October 16, 2008 certainly set the tone for the year.
Koivu added to an already strong start to the season with a one-goal, four-assist night against the Panthers, powering the Wild to a 6-2 victory in their third game of the year.
6. Kronwall gets Koivu’d
The Detroit Red Wings’ Niklas Kronwall was known throughout his career for vicious, bone-jarring (but ultimately, mostly legal) hits that would destroy his opponent, earning his victims the title of “being Kronwalled.”
In 2011 during overtime, Koivu showed Kronwall the opposite side of a hit like that, defending the puck with an exploding shoulder to Kronwall’s chest. Better yet, he followed up the hit by taking the puck into the slot and slid a beautiful pass to Devin Setoguchi, who tapped in the game-winning goal past the Wings’ Jimmy Howard.
Though fans in Hockeytown would disagree, the hit was ruled by most (including the referees on the ice) as a legal use of body position and not interference. But more than anything, it was a bitter pill delivered to an agitator who made a career of blowing up players with their head down, and when a player like that gets a taste of their own medicine, well, you love to see it.
7. Koivu stuns the Stars
Facing elimination and down a goal in Game 5 of the Wild’s first-round playoff series against the Dallas Stars in 2016, Koivu put the game on his shoulders with just over three minutes to play in the third period. The Kaptain took a pass from Granlund from behind the net and buried a one-timer past Antti Niemi. He followed that up with a sweet redirection of a shot from Ryan Suter in overtime to force Game 6. Unfortunately for the Wild, the Stars would end the series in the next game, but Koivu’s two-goal night was one to remember.
8. #AngryMikko is born
In 2007, Mattias Ohlund broke Koivu’s leg with a slash, costing Koivu 24 lost games due to a cracked fibula.
Five games after his return in January 2008, the Wild had a date with the Canucks, and Koivu had a chance for some revenge.
Up 2-1 in the game, Koivu sniped Roberto Luongo to put the Wild up two, and then let out some pent up emotion in front of the Vancouver bench.
And like that, #AngryMikko was born.
Don’t get me wrong — an angry Mikko wasn’t always an unstoppable Mikko (as our own The Noogie once pointed out). But whenever Koivu went into Hulk mode, it was usually pretty fun to watch.
9. 1K for Koivu
In what may possibly be his final season, Mikko Koivu celebrated in style as he took the ice for his 1,000th career game.
He was honored during pregame by his teammates past and present with a silver stick.
He earned the primary assist on the first goal of the game, good for 700 career points in the NHL.
Of course, Koivu gets the primary assist. In his 1,000th game, he gets his 700th point. pic.twitter.com/XOkTH4gxSX— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 1, 2019
And to cap things off, with the game on his stick in the shootout, Mikko did what Mikko’s done countless times before.
Forehand, backhand, top shelf. Like clockwork.
What a grand way to celebrate 1,000 games in the league — all of them with the Wild.
If Koivu retires after this season, he will finish with a team-high 709 points.
His stick, however, is responsible for 710.
Anaheim Ducks forward Bobby Ryan, having had his own stick stolen by Koivu during a play in the Wild’s defensive zone, grabbed Koivu’s twig that was sitting unattended in the corner. Immediately afterwards, Ryan found himself with the puck and an open net, and despite the wrong-handed stick, fired the puck past Niklas Backstrom.
The referees missed both infractions on the play (neither Koivu nor Ryan should have been permitted to use each other’s equipment), and the goal was allowed to stand. I guess two wrongs do make a right, even if it’s done with a left-handed stick.
Koivu passes, and passes Gaborik
In March of 2014, Mikko was in the midst of a seven-game scoring drought in his return from an ankle injury. Heading into a game against the New York Islanders two points shy of Marian Gaborik for the all-time team lead in points, Minnesota was desperate for some offense.
And while it was Matt Moulson who grabbed the headline with two goals and an assist in his first game back to New York since he was traded to the Wild at the deadline, Koivu had a strong night with three assists — the last one pushing him past Gabby for good, in the Wild’s 6-0 victory.
Finally, it’s only fitting to celebrate the end of his career by looking back to where it all started — the 2001 NHL Draft. Having hit on Marian Gaborik in their first-ever entry draft in 2000, the Wild were keen to keep their first-round success going when they settled on a Finnish centerman at No. 6 overall.
You’ve come a long way, Kaptain. No matter what you decide regarding your future, thank you and congratulations for a long NHL career.