So Saku Koivu officially signed with the Anaheim Ducks yesterday.
And with that ends an era in Montreal.
Koivu was the consummate professional, and is the best leader the Canadiens have seen in at least 30 years. You could argue he’s been the best captain since Jean Beliveau. He was a leader on and off the ice.
In 2001, he was diagnosed with cancer. He left the team for most of the season before making a comeback for the last three games of the season.
Koviu’s first game back was against the Ottawa Senators. In a very classy move, the Sens stood at the blueline and tapped their sticks in honour of Koivu as he did his pre-game skate. The crowd gave him an eight-minute standing ovation. It was a great game, and Montreal won 4-3 on a last-minute goal. It also clinched a playoff spot for the Canadiens.
For me, this was one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen, and should have been included on the Canadiens top 10 greatest games of all time.
He has been a consistent player throughout those 13 years with the Habs, routinely scoring 20 goals, and being the team’s best faceoff man and usually assigned the role to stop other team’s top scorers. He was seen on the ice late in the game, whether the team is up by a goal or down by a goal.
In April, 2006, Koivu suffered an eye injury at the hands of Justin Williams of the Carolina Hurricanes during a playoff game. The Habs, who were leading the series at the time, went on to lose without the leadership of Koivu.
Koivu didn’t let it get him down, as he went out the next season, and set career high in goals (22) and points (75).
He also showed leadership off the ice, tirelessly doing charity work in Montreal.
Koivu became my favourite Habs player in one of his first games with the team, when he decided to start checking Eric Lindros. Of course, Koivu just bounced off him, but Koivu got up and kept checking him. I had to give the little guy credit, he never gave up. That quickly endeared me to him.
And that became his calling. In his 13 years with the Canadiens (and there were some pretty bad teams there), Koivu never gave up, never gave less than 100 per cent.
When the media pounced on him for being able to speak French, Koivu kept leading. He never asked for a trade. He never backed away from criticism.
And that’s what the Ducks are going to get. Someone who can score, someone who can play defence. But most importantly, someone who can lead.
Saku, you’ll be missed in Montreal.
Here’s a video about Koivu: