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Koivu Bridges Generation Gap for Finland

Wild captain one of the links between Finland's hockey past and its future

by Evan Sporer / Special to

TORONTO - Mikko Koivu sees many of the same faces he has for years during his long, international hockey career. 

The only difference is that most of them though have traded in their skates and pads for suits and ties. 

"Mikko always talks about his past and brings that stuff up," Erik Haula said. 

Koivu, the oldest skater on Finland's 2016 World Cup of Hockey roster, is also its captain. He's been a consistent player on many Finnish national teams over the past decade, on a program that featured so many of the same iconic names for so many years. 

"We're on this side now, and we were with the main group many years," said Jere Lehtinen, a long-time player now serving as the general manager of this Finland team. "Of course Mikko and those guys were a part of that group the last few tournaments, but it's great to see good players coming up, and young players."

Gone are the likes of Lehtinen, Teemu Selanne, Kimmo Timonen, all of whom now serve on Finland's management group. 

Koivu, their skipper and former teammate, has come to appreciate the opportunity to represent Finland more and more, as the program's past calls the shots, while its present and future takes them.

"You realize more and more the older you get the chances to play in tournaments like these and having all the best players in the tournament… you realize that it's not always first of all that you can make it, and be healthy, and get a chance to play for your country," Koivu said. "You do realize that more and more the older you get how fun it is, and you take a lot of pride for that, and it's a special time always when you get a chance to play for your country. It is."

Selected to represent Finland in the 2014 Olympics, Koivu was forced to sit the tournament out due to a shoulder injury. 

A decade earlier, Koivu was playing in the 2004 World Cup, his first tournament with the men's senior team, and the dawn of his professional career. 

"It's a little different of a situation than it is now for myself, but like I said, we did go far as well [in 2004], so great memories from that," Koivu said. 

His situation now is serving as the liaison between the old Finnish guard of hockey and the new. 

"I don't think it really changes from what I do in Minnesota, or what I've done here with the national team the last couple of years," Koivu said. "For sure when you get older your role kind of changes a little bit, but I'm still trying to do my things the way I've always done. 

"I'm preparing myself for the games. That's the best way to lead - with your example - and we still have a lot of veteran guys."

But for Koivu, the 2016 World Cup represents a bit of career symmetry. In 2004, he was the pupil, embarking on a professional career with veteran countrymen to show him the way. 

Now, he's the veteran, writing the lesson plans and being the mentor for his younger teammates to lean on. 

"He's told us some stories about a 'welcome-to-the-league' moment for him, and it's cool to listen," Haula said. "You can picture it in your own head when you listen to it."

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