November 5 marks the 10-year anniversary of Mikko Koivu's first game as a member of the Minnesota Wild. Koivu is the third Wild player to celebrate his 10-year playing anniversary spending each of those seasons in Minnesota, following Nick Schultz and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Koivu played his first NHL game in 2005. Though his draft year was 2001, he shared his rookie season with current teammates and alternate captains Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, both drafted in 2003.
With Koivu celebrating his 10-year anniversary, and Parise and Suter having broken into the League the same year, Wild.com takes a look at the three captain's first day in the NHL.
Koivu: It was in San Jose. For me it was a little bit different. I missed whatever it's going to be—four, five, six weeks before the season. That's why it was a little bit different for me. Everybody else was in game mode.
Suter: I'm trying to think of where it was. It was at home in Nashville. Did we play St. Louis?
It was against San Jose.
Suter: Oh yeah, I got an assist, I think.
Parise: I remember being really nervous. We were playing Pittsburgh, and there was all this buildup of Crosby's first game.
Koivu: It was tough. I hadn't played a game, and then you're injured, so you really don't know what to expect. It was for sure different. A different start to the season, and your first game, so you're probably more nervous than you think, or than you would usually be.
Suter: I was just numb to the whole situation. I just showed up every day, and tried to survive. I didn't know what to expect. The travel was tough. It had helped the year before there was a lockout, so I was playing in Milwaukee, so a lot of the guys I played with were also up in Nashville, so that helped. But I was just numb to the whole NHL thing, and didn't really have a clue what was going on.
Parise: I remember because I didn't really know—in New Jersey they were always pretty secretive. I didn't know if I was going to make the team or get sent down, I didn't know. The day before that first game they switched my number from 51 to nine, so I kind of assumed that I made the team.
Suter: I knew that the lockout was coming when I signed, so I was prepared for that. I think it worked out great that I was able to be in the AHL. I played with all the guys who were in the NHL. You played against guys like Getzlaf, and Perry, and all those guys that year. Zach was in the AHL. The league was probably 90 percent NHL players at that time.
In The Stands
Koivu: You talk to your family, and everyone is excited for you. At that point it's been a long wait. I think it had been like six weeks. You're anxious to get there, and your first game you want to prove that you can play in the league. Everyone was excited, and you talked to your close ones.
Parise: My parents were there. That was it. Just my parents came out for the game. My brother was playing.
Suter: My brothers and parents. My dad was there. My mom texting. Nothing specific. Honestly, it's just kind of a blur when I look back. I don't have the greatest memory anyway.
Koivu: There are always teammates around you that try to make you feel comfortable before you go out there, and probably joke around a little bit before the game. I can't remember specifically if there was someone. But guys try to always support you, a little bit in a joking way, or just talking to you, whatever it is.
Parise: There was a lot of guys that we had—we had a pretty veteran, older team—there were a lot of guys that were helpful like that. To name a few: (Jamie) Langenbrunner, and (Jay) Pandolfo, but I remember (Scott) Gomez was always really good to me. I remember that day he just said, 'Get the puck, turn your back, handle the puck a little bit, and just get the feel.' Touch the puck a little bit, and it just kind of relaxed me a little bit. He was always really good when I was a younger player.
The First Shift
Koivu: First shift I remember Patrick Marleau came, kind of passed me, and shot it crossbar. That was a reality of playing in the NHL, and it was happening fast and all that. After the first one and after the first couple they got easier. I for sure remember the first one.
Parise: I remember being out for warmups, and looking—I was playing center at the time—and taking a peek down the other end when we were doing breakouts in warmups. I stepped right next to Mario Lemiuex, who was playing for Pittsburgh at the time, and was like, 'wow.' This was a guy that I idolized, and that was the moment when I was like 'I finally made it.' I'll never forget that. That was a cool moment.
Suter: I just remember I was so nervous because I had met a lot of the guys—a lot of the guys had played with my uncle Gary. So I had met a lot of them, and then this was my first NHL game against them. It was weird in that sense. But that's about all I remember.
You had four penalty minutes.
Suter: The first game? I had no clue. That's funny.
Parise: I played with (Viktor) Kozlov and (Brian) Gionta.
You scored a goal.
Parise: Yup, power play. Gio got the assist on that one. Him and actually Paul Martin got the other assist. They gave me a plaque and a frame, and I have it at home.
Koivu: Lines were changing a lot at that point. It was more like just trying to make sure you were ready to go individually, and kind of get into game mode.
Parise: I remember being really, really nervous, and rightfully so, everyone is. As far as lunch, and nap, I don't remember that much about it.
During the game, the crowd was chanting 'overrated' at Crosby, and 'Parise's better.'
Parise: Yeah. That didn't last very long. I think Crosby had about 108 points that year. I laughed, but like I said, that didn't last very long.
Koivu: I remember Gabby (Marian Gaborik) had a penalty shot in that game. I think we ended up winning that game in a shootout.
It was a 3-1 win.
Koivu: 3-1? Then it's not a shootout; the second game was a shootout. I remember it was a win. That was a good feeling. It was good to get the win, and even if you're not expecting to be playing big minutes or anything like that, but the feeling after the game when you get the first win is always huge. Especially in that building it's not easy to do, so it was good feeling for sure.
A Decade Later
Parise: When you hit that 10-year mark, you can't believe it. You hear about it, and my dad was always saying how fast it goes by, and it really does. It's incredible how quick the 10 years has gone. It feels like four. But I love it; it's been great.
Koivu: I think about it sometimes. You think about how you've been fortunate to be on one team, in one organization. You've been able to live in one city for your whole career. A lot has changed. You think about 10 years, and whatever you do, 10 years is a long time to be in the same environment. I always really liked it here since day one. There were different stages. When you first get into the league, and then a couple of years in, and then 10 years, it changes, but I've been enjoying it since the first minute of it.
Parise: It's a special thing when you can play for one team your whole career. It's a great accomplishment for [Koivu] to be able to be in one spot. You go through, and how many different teammates, and how many things he's seen changed. He's kind of been the one constant that's been here the whole time. It's a good accomplishment.
Koivu: As a player or a person you try to do the things that you feel is the right way to do them. That's what I've been doing ever since I got here.
Parise: You always want to feel, captain or not, whatever, it doesn't matter your position; you always want to feel appreciated. With as much as he's done and given to the organization, you want to feel the love; you want to feel the love back. It doesn't matter what profession you're in. I'm sure for him it's a great thing.
Koivu: Wearing the 'C,' it's more you're trying to keep doing the things you've been doing your whole career. You're trying to make sure you get the respect from your teammates, and the staff, and things like that. I don't think it's something that you get from being on one team. It's probably a thing that you have to keep doing, and your role changes over the years from when you first get into the league. Now the players are a lot younger than you so I think you have to try to show them an example of how you do things day-in and day-out, and what you learned for the first couple of years from your veterans. You're trying to create the culture more than anything for the organization. For sure when you get older and you become a veteran, guy, you feel responsible for that.