In an emotional close to his career, retired Ducks center and former Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu was honored Thursday night in a pregame ceremony at Bell Center.
“I should be the one here applauding to you,” Koivu said in a speech that followed extended applause as he took his spot on the ice behind a microphone wearing his No. 11 Canadiens jersey with a captain’s “C” on it.
“Thank you for the amazing, great memories. I will always be a Hab at my heart.”
The 40-year-old Koivu retired in September after helping the Ducks reach Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Kings, saying that he no longer felt the fire to play.
“I really enjoyed playing for an unbelievably great team,” Koivu said during the ceremony of the Ducks, who watched the ceremony from the bench area. “Guys, thank you for the amazing five years you gave me.”
Koivu, the Canadiens captain from 1999 to 2009, showed deep appreciation to the Montreal crowd after saying earlier Thursday he was moved that people were stopping him in the streets to thank him and say hello.
“I truly believe every player should have an opportunity to play for the Montreal Canadiens,"; he said.
Koivu’s appearance was emotionally packed, his speech set up by video footage of him during his fight against cancer as a player in Montreal.
“I will win this fight, and I will be back,” the then-ailing Koivu said in the old footage from a news conference.
He did return in another emotional appearance on April 9, 2002, playing in a Montreal victory.
“As we all know, I’ve had some challenges,” Koivu said Thursday, his eyes moistening and voice cracking. “The biggest: the fight with cancer.
“You took me in as your own, kept me going when I was fighting for my life. There’s no words to describe what you gave me on April 9, 2002, one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.”
The Canadiens announced Koivu’s fund-raising efforts for Montreal General Hospital, which helped save his life, which have exceeded $7 million, a physician saying he’s never seen such generosity from a patient.
Four Canadiens presented Koivu with a portrait of career highlights, and he later did a mock faceoff with Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf and his former Montreal teammate, defenseman Andrei Markov.