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Koivu happy to cede the spotlight in Finland

by Risto Pakarinen
If the Anaheim Ducks' three Finns were a classic rockband, Teemu Selanne would be the obvious lead singer, the frontman. Toni Lydman would be the drummer, giving it the distinct sound while making sure the band stayed the course.

Saku Koivu would be the talented, songwriting guitar player, the other half of the heart of the band, with Selanne. If they were the Beatles, Selanne would be Lennon and McCartney, Koivu would be George Harrison, and Lydman would be Ringo. In Led Zeppelin, Selanne would be Robert Plant, Koivu would be Jimmy Page. (And Lydman would be John Bonham).

All legends in their own right, but with most of the spotlight on the frontman.

And after a decade as the captain of the Montreal Canadiens, that's exactly what Koivu wants right now. He's fine with somebody else fielding all the questions from the media, so that he can just do what he loves to do: play hockey.


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Maybe the media scrutiny gets a little suffocating at times. Koivu signed with the Ducks in 2009, and in California, he's been able to breathe a little easier.

"Life outside the rink has been easier and I have been able to focus better on just playing hockey. It took me longer than I thought to get adjusted to the new team, new teammates, and a new system in the first season, but last season was a lot easier, with everything," Koivu said at a press conference after the Ducks first practice in Helsinki.

"Now life is not only about hockey like it can sometimes be in Montreal," he added.

But there he was, though, on the podium, fielding questions from the mostly Finnish press. After all, the Team Finland captain -- as he will be every time he plays for his country -- was back in his native Finland and over here, he is the center of attention.

"As the trip has got closer, we've talked about it with Toni and Teemu, and neither Toni nor I have ever played here with our NHL teams. And now that I can see that it's going to be a huge event, it makes it even better," he said.

Koivu hasn't played in Finland since March 2005 when his Turku TPS lost their quarterfinals series against HPK Hameenlinna so it's been a while Finnish fans have had a chance to see him in action.

"It will be a special night, especially with my friends and family in the stands. I don't have too many years left in my career, so it's great to have this experience," he said.

On Tuesday, the Ducks will play an exhibition game against Helsinki Jokerit, Teemu Selanne's alma mater. While Selanne has never played against Jokerit, Koivu, a Turku native, has.

"It will be an emotional night, especially since I know how much that game means to Teemu. I feel good about the game because I've played against Jokerit many times, and it's not often my team has lost," Koivu said, smiling.

While Selanne was quick to protest, the last time Koivu played against Jokerit, in January 2005, his TPS did beat them, 1-0, and Koivu scored the goal.

But for the Ducks, the game against Jokerit is just one step towards the start of the NHL regular season against the Buffalo Sabres. They have a few days, and just a handful of practices to recover from the jetlag.

According to coach Randy Carlyle, Koivu and Selanne are a pair that won't easily get separated. The third link is currently, like most of last season, Jason Blake.

"We've had different guys on the left wing, but in the last game it was Blake, and we have a certain chemistry so I'm sure we'll start with that line, and then we'll see how things develop," says Koivu.

On that line, centering the 41-year-old Selanne and the 38-year-old Blake, Koivu, at 36, is the kid. But for the trio, age is nothing but a number, and their style of hockey is a young man's game.

"We think alike about how the game is played, and we seem to react the same way to what happens on the ice. We're not big or physical so we'll have to try to move the puck," said Koivu who likes the team's development.

Last season, Koivu scored 45 points in 75 games, his lowest point total this side of 2000 (not including 2001-02 when he played just three games).

Maybe he can bounce back, and steal the limelight for a moment this year, maybe he can't, for Koivu, it all takes a back seat to winning.

"This is my third season with the Ducks, and I think the team's got better at not taking too many penalties, and sticking to the game plan. In the past, especially our young stars sometimes got overexcited, but they've learned a lot," said Koivu, sounding like a wise old man.
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