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Koivu's big surprise was nearly spoiled in its final hours

Wild pulls out all the stops as team celebrates captain's 1,000th NHL game

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ST. PAUL -- The Wild celebrated Mikko Koivu on Tuesday night in the only way it saw fit for the only full-time captain in team history. 

In addition to the traditional crystal and the silver stick and donation to Koivu's favorite charity was the surprise addition of four former teammates who returned to town to toast one of their best friends. 

With his wife and children, his parents, Wild GM Bill Guerin and owner Craig Leipold on the ice ready to get the routine started, Koivu turned towards the Zamboni tunnel and found one final surprise. 

Well, four of them actually.

In town for the event were Niklas Backstrom, Kyle Brodziak, Marian Gaborik and Nick Schultz, four of Koivu's closest confidants in his more than a decade in Minnesota. 

"I think that was something that I'll never forget," Koivu said. "Not only for me, but for those guys, too, it shows their appreciation for the organization for those guys and what they've done and how they built the culture around here early on when the team first got here and then when I first got here."

In a rare show of on-ice emotion, the Wild's captain -- clad in his familiar No. 9 jersey even though he wasn't able to play because of injury -- smiled from ear to ear as each one was introduced.

The plan to get them here, hatched more than a month ago by Andrew Heydt, the Wild's Director of Team Operations and Player Relations, was approved by GM Bill Guerin, team president Matt Majka and owner Craig Leipold. 

Video: ANA@MIN: Koivu honored for 1,000th career NHL game

He then worked up the list of four with longtime Wild equipment manager Tony Da Costa, but it wasn't hard to identify the four. 

The most difficult part was keeping it a secret from Koivu, a task that was nearly spoiled -- twice -- in the final 24 hours before the big unveiling Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center. 

Several people inside the organization learned of the plan over the past few weeks, but ironically, it was Da Costa on Monday, then Heydt on Tuesday, that nearly spilled the beans. 

Just a day before the big unveil, Da Costa had dinner with Backstrom and his wife at a local restaurant. Not thinking, Da Costa told Koivu about a present he was planning on giving Backstrom for his retirement, a custom bottle of wine, a gift he was planning on giving him when he saw him at Koivu's after party Tuesday night.

Of course, at the time, Koivu didn't know Backstrom would be at that party.

"See him?" Koivu asked him. 

That forced Da Costa to think quickly on his feet. He quickly covered his tracks by saying that he would be giving Backstrom the gift when he saw him at Heydt's wedding during the All-Star break in January. 

"He covered his tracks well," Heydt said. 

It was Heydt's turn to nearly spoil the surprise just 30 minutes before the start of Koivu's ceremony.

With the four former teammates under lock and key inside the arena, Heydt was able to get Koivu into the dressing room so he could change into his gear. 

In the clear, right? 


Heydt happened to mention a quick conversation he had with Schultz earlier in the day about something Schultz had wanted Heydt to pass along to Koivu.

"Schultzie?" Koivu asked again.

This time, it was Heydt who had to think fast. 

"Oh yeah, I was texting with him because Philly is coming in this weekend," Heydt said of Schultz, who finished his NHL career with the Flyers. 

Once again, Koivu never thought twice about the close call.

"So I was able to cover my tracks again," Heydt said. "That was two close calls. But overall, we kept it a surprise and I think Mikko was touched by it."

Touched might be an understatement. 

Koivu relished the visit with his buddies, but admitted he became a bit suspicious when they seemed to ghost him in recent days. 

"I tried calling and talking to those guys the last couple of days and no one answered," Koivu said. "Now I understand why."

As important as the reunion was to Koivu, it was just the same for those who made the journey here.

Gaborik spent more than 10 hours on a flight from his home in Slovakia to Chicago, had a couple-hour layover, then finished the trip to the Twin Cities on Monday night. 

"Just him as a friend and as a person and as a player and what he accomplished and the way we helped each other kind of grow as players and as people," Gaborik said. "We weren't just teammates on the ice. We were also friends off the ice. It wasn't just going out to dinners and talking small talk. We had some serious conversations and I think I guided him through some process. I'm grateful I got to play with him. We had some good times."

Backstrom arrived from Finland on Saturday and spent a couple of days visiting with old friends. 

"It was really nice to see him on the ice and just to be part of this, it's great to be here," Backstrom said. "I think for all the players who played with him, Mikko meant a lot and helped us out a lot, especially me. My first year coming in, I was 28, he was younger, but he'd been here so he helped me a lot. I owe him a lot. It's great to be part of it."

Wild loses in shootout, keeps point streak alive

Minnesota got off to a horrid start on Tuesday night but recovered in time to salvage a point in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Ducks. 

The single point extended the Wild's home point streak to 10 games (7-0-3). Minnesota still hasn't lost at home in regulation since opening night to the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

Still, it was an effort that left a sour taste in the mouth of Wild coach Bruce Boudreau.

Video: Bruce Boudreau postgame vs Anaheim

"It's frustrating. I mean, the whole night was pretty frustrating, quite frankly," Boudreau said. "To start out that first period like that, to get one shot on goal at home, it's pretty embarrassing, and I told the guys that. I said, 'Our first 10 games weren't very good, like with the won-loss record, but nothing compares to what we did in the first period.'"

Anaheim outshot Minnesota 14-1 in the opening stanza and built a 2-0 lead on an even strength goal by Rickard Rakell and a power-play goal by Cam Fowler. 

Video: ANA@MIN: Hartman fires long shot past Gibson

The Wild began its comeback in the second period when Ryan Hartman got Minnesota on the board with a fluttering shot that got past an outstretched John Gibson for Hartman's fourth of the year. 

In the third, Ryan Donato tied the game 2:03 in, ripping a shot under the crossbar after a nice forecheck by Zach Parise earned him the puck. He spun a backhand pass to Donato below the left faceoff dot for a quick shot.

Video: ANA@MIN: Donato scores tying goal in 3rd

"I think we're all pretty disappointed in the way we played tonight," Donato said. "It's nice to see we battled back, but even with that, doesn't mean anything at the end of the day if we don't come away with the win. We've got to regroup."

The Wild had a pair of power play chances late, one in the final minutes of regulation and another in the opening minute of overtime, but could not find a way to get the final goal.

Minnesota outshot Anaheim 3-0 in overtime, but had just one shot on goal during the 4-on-3 power play, which included 30 seconds of a virtual 4-on-2 after Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg snapped his stick on the kill. 

The Wild had just one shot on goal despite two minutes of zone time on the power play. 

"We had the opportunity there and probably in a game we shouldn't have had the opportunity to win we did," Parise said. "We just couldn't capitalize on those two power plays that we had. It would be nice to get that one in overtime."

Parise and Kevin Fiala were unsuccessful in the shootout while Rakell and Max Comtois converted their tries against Wild goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen to earn Amaheim the bonus point.

Kahkonen finished with 31 saves in his home debut with Minnesota.

"We weren't skating," Boudreau said of his team's start. "We didn't win any battles in the first period. Every time there was a competition for a puck, they came up with it."

No update on Staal

Wild forward Eric Staal was injured in the first period when he skated full speed into a linesman at Minnesota's offensive blue line.

Staal laid on the ice for a couple of minutes before slowly getting to his feet and skating off with some assistance from Wild athletic trainer John Worley. 

Video: Bruce Boudreau postgame vs Anaheim

"I honestly didn't see the hit. I just saw him laying down," Parise said. "Eric's not the type of player that's going to lay down on the ice. So just looking at it, it looked like he was in a little bit of pain or a lot of pain. So again, I don't know exactly what it was but hopefully it's nothing too bad."

Minnesota's center depth, already depleted with the injury to Koivu, could be tested if Staal has to miss any time. 

Nico Sturm, who was sent back to the AHL on Monday, did not play in Iowa's game Tuesday night against the Tucson Roadrunners. 

"We can't woe is me, if we woe is me, every other team in this league has injuries ... we've got to get up there and somebody say, 'I don't want somebody to be hurt but this is my opportunity. I'm going to show them how good I am.'"


Postgame Hat Trick: Ducks 3, Wild 2 (SO)

Video: MIN Recap: Wild extend home point streak in SO loss

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