Saku Koivu officially retired this past week. While he
finished Finnished his career with the Ducks, the hockey world will, rightfully, always remember him as a Hab.
In our return from summer-slumber edition of The Forum, we asked our contributors what No. 11 meant to them from his 14-year tenure with the Canadiens.
We’d love to hear what Saku meant to you as well. Please leave your thoughts and comments below.
Kyle (@kyleroussel) – I was 17 when my favourite Hab, Kirk Muller, was dealt to the Isles for…who cares.
I swore I would never get so attached to any other player ever again. Little did I know that there was already a player on the roster primed to steal my affections.
From that point, until my early 30s when he left for the relative anonymity of Anaheim, Koivu was just about the only good thing about the Habs. It was the darkest decade for the team we all love, and here’s this undersized Finnish player taking on the challenge of trying to right the ship, despite chronic incompetent management that had him playing a role not suited for him, and failing to surround him with the type of players that would help him to thrive.
Injuries and illness robbed him of his prime years and shortchanged us on what could have been, but Saku always came as advertised: having the heart of a lion. It’s a shame that he never won a Cup, but he’ll leave a lasting mark on the Habs.
After Muller was traded, I thought the number 11 was dead to me, but Koivu quickly proved that Muller was merely keeping the seat warm.
Be sure to read Kyle’s thoughts on how to properly honour Koivu over on his site, Cowhide & Rubber.
Sean (@TheONeillFactor) – Saku Koivu had the unfortunate fate of serving as the face of hockey’s most illustrious franchise during a period when that franchise was at it’s absolute nadir. Had Koivu been a member of the Habs dynasties of the ’50s, ’60s, or ’70s, he’d be fondly remembered as a plucky, undersized, two-way, fan favourite.
If he played for the current iteration of the Habs, he’d fit in perfectly as a possession-driving, top-nine playmaker.
Koivu, however, was not that lucky – it’s hard enough serving as the face of a franchise in the midst of an identity crisis – it’s harder still chasing the ghosts of Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard when you’re saddled with Sergei Samsonov and Oleg Petrov.
Miscast as a number one centre, fans and the media began conflating the team’s struggles with Koivu’s deficiencies. Lesser men have been shipped out of Montreal for greater sins – the Koivu-era, it appeared, would be short and unfulfilled. A funny thing happened, however, on the way to shipping the bum out of town – the Habs became respectable again and the Captain went from whipping boy to icon.
We all know what the turning point was – April 9, 2002 – the day the Habs got their mojo back. Cancer survivor awakens the ghosts of a long-dormant dynasty and lifts a team and a city – normally those types of narratives make me roll my eyes, at best.
But when it comes to the Habs, and when it comes to Saku Koivu, I don’t respond normally or rationally. I respond like a fan, in the best possible sense of the word. Unlike Beliveau and Richard and Lafleur and all of the other ghosts he always had to chase, Koivu never brought a Cup to Montreal. Koivu brought the Habs back to Montreal (and vice-versa) and that’s pretty damn good.
Zach (@ZachVanasse) – It’s almost impossible to remember the ’93-‘02 Canadiens at this point. We are so far removed from all of that these days that the whole era seems downright inconceivable now. The empty seats in the Bell née-Molson Centre, the meh-titude surrounding The Once Great Franchise, the fact that seemingly no one wanted to buy the team…
The Habs are La raison d’être in Quebec once more, perhaps more so than ever.
How did they come so far?
Confession time: I didn’t exactly grow up a Habs fan. It wasn’t because I was raised cheering for another team and it’s not as though I actively cheered against the Canadiens or anything like that. I supported them. It’s just that my support for the team was offered from a distance back in the ‘90s.
I was a baseball fan first and foremost. The Expos, and baseball in general, were my life. I remember moments like the aborted ’94 MLB season and the Blue Jays championships of ’92-’93 far better than the ’93 Cup win in Montreal.
There were a ton of factors that eventually opened the door to my hockey fandom: the death of the Expos, baseball’s steroid problem, that aforementioned strike, actually going to the Bell Centre for the first time, discovering the joys of drinking while watching hockey, university roommates, the realization that hockey was much more entertaining to watch than baseball, etc.
However, the one moment forever crystalized in my mind as ground zero for my to-the-core, tricolored-blooded Habs fandom came on April 9, 2002.
Of course, that wasn’t just a moment for me, as Sean points out, it was The Moment for a lot of us.
Saku represented something to so many of us in those eight minutes and beyond.
It proved – he proved – that despite the abysmality of the post-Roy Habs and the apathy that had set in for fans, the Canadiens could still generate those exceptional moments that made the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge mean something more.
Because Saku meant something more.
He wasn’t French-Canadian. He was, at best, a border-line all-star most seasons. He was undersized. He played for not very good to horrible teams.
Yet he transcended all of that.
Some might argue that the only reason Saku “matters” at all is because he wore the C for the CH for all those seasons. That would be looking at it all wrong.
The Canadiens didn’t make Saku matter. He made the Canadiens matter, again.
And, more importantly for me, he made the Canadiens matter, really matter, to me.
Damon (@DTA23) – Certain players impact and importance to a team or a city can’t be measured in Cups, wins, points or assists. Saku Koivu is one of those players.
For me, what he did on the ice doesn’t matter. The man was a pillar in the community and gave not only money, but his time to help fight cancer and get money for better equipment for diagnostics and treatment.
More importantly, for many people battling cancer, he was a symbol that the disease could be beaten.The man handled himself with class at all times. Anybody saying his jersey shouldn’t be retired just needs to watch this video. That tells you all you need to know about his place among the greats. Greatness can be measured in many ways. Saku will always remain one of my top Habs players.
I was one of those guys used to Montreal winning, and one who stubbornly said Europeans didn’t have the heart of a Canadian hockey player, could never be captain.
But Saku changed my mind. I was 45 when he played his first season with the Habs, and one thing that stands out is what my friend Gary Lupul said to me then, that Saku really knew how to handle the puck, definitely one of the best.
And then, along with his skill, I saw his dedication, his strength, his love for the city of Montreal and all Habs fans. He seemed to get what it meant to be a Montreal Canadien, and he carried on the tradition I was used to from the years before with the Richard brothers, Beliveau, all the guys who wore the CH like few could.
It was great to have Saku.