Wild captain Koivu steps up his game on and off the ice
Mikko Koivu, the only full-time captain in Wild franchise history, gathered pucks from along the wall and formed a pile during a practice this week. The 32-year-old veteran from Finland stayed on the ice long after most of his teammates had hit t...
Mikko Koivu, the only full-time captain in Wild franchise history, gathered pucks from along the wall and formed a pile during a practice this week.
The 32-year-old veteran from Finland stayed on the ice long after most of his teammates had hit the showers. He fed pucks to fellow forward Erik Haula, a 24-year-old fourth liner who had been called out by coach Mike Yeo to step up his game.
There are Wild fans out there who see Koivu as stoic and standoffish. Some would rather see Minnesotan Zach Parise, not Koivu, wearing the “C” on his sweater.
But they don’t see this side of Koivu, when he’s the guy helping a teammate with his game. Koivu takes his role as captain seriously, and he is very well respected in the locker room. He has his teammates’ vote, for sure.
“He’s a good mix of being a great guy and being a guy that expects a lot from you,” Haula said. “There’s a really fine line there, and that’s one of his best qualities as a captain: being that nice guy when you need it, but when there’s a time to be hard on you, he can do that as well. He can help you learn, and he always means it in a good way. But it’s really helpful, and I respect that about him.”
With Koivu off to his best start in three years, he has earned rave reviews for his performance on the ice, which includes a four-game point streak and five points in six games leading to Saturday’s home game against the Anaheim Ducks.
But his off-ice mentoring of young players has been just as important to the team.
Since the first day of training camp, he has played alongside Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker, a pair of 23-year-olds. That trio has been the Wild’s best line to start the season; they rank first, second and third on the team in shot attempt differential.
“I would say whether he wore the ‘C’ or not, he would play the same way and do the same things,” Yeo said. “But I would say that he’s an incredibly proud guy and puts a lot of onus on himself to live up to it. He’s doing a phenomenal job looking out for the younger players. You see the way he’s brought along Zucker and Nino and what he has meant to those guys this year.”
After practicing late Wednesday with Haula, Koivu returned to his locker stall, which is next to Zucker’s. He agreed to meet Zucker later for an off-ice workout.
Asked about his mentoring, Koivu deflected talk about himself.
“To be honest, I think they really earned it,” he said of Zucker and Niederreiter, his linemates. “That’s what, as a veteran, you really appreciate. You’ve got guys coming into the league and joining the team with the right attitude, and they really want to get better. They want to get to the next level, and they want to help the team. But more than anything, off the ice you can see their work ethic and the way they treat the people around the rink and trainers and things like that. Those are the types of guys you want to help as much as you can.”
The past two seasons, the Wild have suffered long losing stretches that put their coach on the hot seat and threatened their chances of making the playoffs.
Koivu said that’s when he’s been most tested as a captain.
“It’s obviously easy when things are going good,” he said. “But when the team is struggling or you’re struggling individually, that’s when it tests you a little. I think you learn with time as you analyze those things. But I take a lot of pride in it.”
The last time the Wild (4-1-1) and Ducks (1-4-1) met, on Sunday in Anaheim, Koivu and his line combined for 15 of Minnesota’s 35 shots in a 4-1 loss, a reflection of Koivu’s strong play at center but also his continued mentorship of two young linemates.
“We’re (six) games into the season,” Yeo said. “But this is the best he’s looked since I’ve been here.”