Saku Koivu reflects on career before Montreal ceremony

Saku Koivu reflects on his NHL legacy before ceremony in Montreal

Saku Koivu said he’s “very nervous” about being honored tonight before the team he previously captained, the Montreal Canadiens, meets the Ducks, the team the center retired from during the summer.

“More emotional -- than probably ever,” Koivu said. “I know there’s a game, but it’s about me, and in some ways I don’t feel comfortable about that.

“I announced my retirement a few months ago, but for some reason, this feels right. It all makes sense to [be] in front of you one more time. … It’s very humbling.”

Koivu is tied with the late Canadiens great Jean Beliveau for the longest captaincy of the Canadiens (1999-2009) and his 2002 return to playing after a cancer battle remains one of hockey’s most emotional nights.

The Canadiens aren’t expected to retire Koivu’s jersey number, but his time as captain is indeed special, considering the NHL’s franchise leader in Stanley Cups (24) doesn’t have a designated captain now.

Saying he lacked the fire to return for this season, Koivu, who turned 40 last month, retired without the fanfare of his former Ducks teammate Teemu Selanne.

He simply took off his skates for the final time after the Ducks’ Game 7 Western Conference semifinal loss to the Kings in May and confided to his fellow Finland native Selanne that he would likely join him in retirement as the Kings went on to earn the Stanley Cup that eluded Koivu.

The Ducks ultimately landed new centers Ryan Kesler and Nate Thompson and currently lead the NHL in points.

He still lives in Orange County, coaching his son in hockey, but he made it clear Thursday that a big part of his heart remains in Montreal, and expressed happiness at being recognized as he walked through the city’s snowy streets.

“There’s not a better place to be as a hockey player than in Montreal at playoff time,” Koivu said. “I hope you remember me as a great person, as a player who gave it all, who wore the ‘C’ proudly. … I went through some tough times, but fought to the end.”

He said his cancer fight is a significant part of his legacy, saying his ability to bring a cancer-fighting device that helped him to Montreal might be his greatest accomplishment.

“After cancer, I learned to enjoy life more,” he said. “I see the world in better eyes.”

Koivu said he can envision another meeting between the Ducks and the returning Eastern Conference-finalist Canadiens (20-12-2) in this season’s Stanley Cup Final.

“If I look at the Canadiens, they’re a dangerous team, and when they get hot at the right time, anything can happen -- they have talent in net with Carey Price -- and when I look at Anaheim, we showed in the last two seasons what that team can do,” Koivu said. “With that talent level and that depth, those two teams can go all the way to the finals.”

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