MINNEAPOLIS - Amidst the uncertainty of a global health pandemic and his own future in professional hockey, Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu is focused on preparation as the National Hockey League’s return looms.
Koivu admitted late last week he wasn’t sure if the NHL would return after being shut down on March 11 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But there was a sense of relief and anticipation as the Wild gathered to start training camp last week.
The Wild are in the middle of preparations for the league’s 24-team tournament to resume the season, which will start for Minnesota against the Vancouver Canucks in a best-of-five series in early August. Last week, players got on the ice for full-team workouts after more than four months off.
“I think we also realize there’s still a couple weeks before we start the actual games so I think the atmosphere has been real positive, it’s been upbeat and I think guys are excited to be back and just be out there. I don’t think no one knew what to expect coming into camp and all that, but I think it looks good and I think guys are excited to be back,” Koivu said late last week. “Now I think it’s just step by step getting closer to Game 1 and just trying to prepare the best we can.”
Koivu played in 55 games for the Wild this season before the NHL stopped play, collecting a modest 21 points on four goals. He had knee surgery February of 2019 after tearing the ACL and meniscus in his right knee.
He candidly said it was still bothering him for the first 20 to 30 games this season, while also dealing with a groin injury. He was a little uncertain about the right side heading into training camp, but said everything felt good after the first few days.
“I didn’t feel good about the last month before we had the break and all that. You’re a little concerned always once you haven’t been skating how it’s going to be, how it’s going to react to that kind of pressure. It’s been good, everything should be good to go,” Koivu said.
Whenever the Wild season comes to a close, Koivu has a decision to make about his future. He’s 37 years old and is in his 15th NHL season, all with Minnesota. He’s also in the final year of his current contract.
Koivu went home to Finland during the Covid-19 quarantine period, and that only fueled speculation that he might just stay there, especially if the NHL couldn’t find a way to get back on the ice. He didn’t want to speculate on his future, saying he’s focused on Edmonton and preparing to face Vancouver.
“Once I got there, everybody thought I was coming there 100 percent so thanks for that, I appreciate it,” Koivu joked. “As of right now, I’m just really trying to enjoy every minute of it on the ice and the preparation part and once we get to Edmonton and start playing again. Once the games are done, then I’ll look at the future and that’s going to be totally up to mentally and physically how I feel and trying to do the right thing in my mind of the future. I don’t think it’s time to make that call as of right now.”
For now full-time head coach Dean Evason, that’s refreshing to hear.
“Mikko Koivu has meant everything to this franchise. He has been such a figure, just watching from afar for so many years of how he’s led by example and is still leading. There’s a reason he’s a captain on the team. “You watch his work ethic out there, it’s absolutely awesome and he doesn’t let anybody off the hook.”
The Wild will head to Edmonton later this week, and like every other team, don’t really know what to expect when they get there. They’ll be confined to hotel rooms, following Covid-19 protocols and likely watching a lot of hockey together.
Most importantly, Koivu is getting his mind and body ready for what the team hopes is a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But they have to beat the Canucks three times first for that to even be a possibility.
“It’s an opportunity for us but it’s the same opportunity for the rest of the teams who are in. It’s about us and if we’re going to take advantage of that or not. Every team is in the same situation and you’re starting the same way with the first round of playoffs and we go from there,” Koivu said. “We’ll see once we get to the games and once we get started, but the challenge is going to be big.”