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In A Decade, Koivu Has Earned Respect, Knowledge

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild



An average game for center Mikko Koivu may go something like this.

He will likely match up against the other team's best player and top line. In the Central Division that means going head-to-head with the likes of Jonathan Toews, Vladimir Tarasenko, Tyler Seguin, Matt Duchene, and the list goes on.

It's Koivu's responsibility to try to shut down or at least limit those offensive threats.

"It can be a lot of fun too," Koivu said. "You're satisfied when you're able to shut a good line or good players down, and give your team a chance to win a hockey game that way. It's always rewarding."

Of course that's not all Koivu is charged with. Sandwiched between right wing Nino Niederreiter, and left wing Jason Zucker, Koivu is the maestro and glue for one of the Wild's top offensive lines.

"You try to work on all-over, the whole game, but for sure I take a lot of pride on the defensive part of the game," Koivu said. "Offensively you want to be as good as you can as well. I'm trying to work on that day-in and day-out. The whole package as a center is to be a good two-way player, and that's what I'm trying to do."

It's a role he has grown into in his 10-year NHL career, spent entirely in Minnesota. Many things have changed in Koivu's decade-long tenure for the Wild, and some things have stayed the same.

"It's almost like three different stages," Koivu said. " It always changes with the coach, when the coach changes, there are different things they want to do. What they're comfortable with, and what they believe in."

Since making his Wild debut in 2005, Koivu has played for three different coaches.

"The whole League has changed, with the social media and things like that, and the marketing," Koivu said. "There's more media around, and that comes with the success the team is having the past couple of years."

After making the playoffs in two out of his first three seasons, the Wild went on a four-year playoff drought, but have advanced to the postseason in each of the past three years.

"The game has changed a little bit, too," Koivu said.

Koivu is the only player remaining on the Wild from his rookie season of 2005-06. It's a rare feat League-wide: only 19 other players who debuted in 2005 are still on the same team, and have only played for that team their entire careers, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

"The owner changed, and the whole management has changed pretty much, and I'm the only player since I got here [still here]," Koivu said. "A lot has changed with the roster. A lot of things have changed over the years."

One thing that has particularly evolved is Koivu as a player. He's blossomed into a defensive stalwart, a possession-driving forward, and, by those criteria, someone who is hard to play against.

As his production has seen peaks and valleys—his three highest point totals came in 2010, 2009, and 2011—Koivu has found other ways to influence the game, and there are other numbers that truly shed light on Koivu's impact.

Last season, every single teammate he played with for at least 40 minutes had better possession numbers when on the ice with the Wild captain, some appreciably so.

"You always want to score points, and you always want to get on the board and help the team that way," Koivu said. "But the older you get, and the more you have experience in the League, you already establish as a player what you are. It's not going to change who you are if you have five, 10 less or more points a year."

The portfolio he's put together has allowed Koivu to build a reputation, something he said is very important. It helped earn him the role of becoming the Wild's first full-time captain in team history on Oct. 20, 2009.

"Players that you play against, they know the type of player everyone is, and you earn the respect over the years," Koivu said. "At least for me that's the most important thing. Especially in the room, you have the respect from your teammates, but of course, you want to have that around the League as well. That goes further than the points, or goals."

One of those players in the locker room is Finnish countryman Mikael Granlund, a young player whom Koivu has helped develop.

"Mikko has been a great mentor for him," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "Even though there are certain times where Mikko might know that it might cost him some ice time or some opportunities in certain situations that shows what kind of captain he is."

For Koivu, it's all part of the process of being around the game for a longer time.

"I'm trying to be myself, and the younger guys, when they come in, if you're smart, they each have their players they try to learn from," Koivu said. "The veterans, that's the responsibility, and I've been lucky that when I first got into the League there were great leaders I always tried to look up to, and learn from them."

And with that experience has not come complacency. Yeo said Koivu is going through the best camp he's seen in the four years he's coached Koivu.

"When you win some hockey games, and if you're able to win a playoff round and get a taste of what it's all about, you get hungrier to get further," Koivu said. "At the same time, we don't want to think too far ahead of ourselves. We saw last year how many good teams were out of the playoffs, and that is the reality of today's hockey."

Because in year number 11 for number nine, the modus operandi is as clear as ever: a Stanley Cup.

"At the end it's about winning, and I've seen that as long as the team is doing well, every individual, it's easier to look good," Koivu said. "Individually, for sure you want to do well, but at the end it's about the team, and you realize that when you get older and older, and have more games in the League."

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