Koivu played for the Habs from 1995-2009, and he was their Captain for 10 of those seasons. He was an absolute class act, both on and off the ice. On the ice, he "played the game right". He worked hard each night, never took cheap shots, did whatever it took to help his team win. Off the ice, he was involved with the community in Montreal, and always had time for the media. He was critisced for not speaking French sometimes, but the guy learned English, and attempted to speak French when necessary. He did everything in his power to live up to the expectations that come with being the Captain of the Montreal Canadiens. I liked him as a hockey player, but it was his off ice character that made me such a fan.
In 2001, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He spent the entire 2001-02 season going through therapy, swearing that he would play hockey again. And with 3 games left in the season, he did just that. Admittedly, I was only a casual hockey fan in these days, and while I liked Koivu, I didn't watch every Habs game or anything. Regrettably, I didn't see this the night it happened. But I've watched it a million times since. The standing ovation that Saku Koivu received when he stepped onto the ice for the first time since his diagnosis was insane. It gives me chills to this day....
Koivu battled injuries his entire career. In addition to his cancer, he's had several knee injuries, and in 2006, he caught a stick in the eye, suffering a detached retina. He says to this say his vision isn't 100%, and it probably never will be again. But despite being riddled with injuries, Koivu always left everything he had on the ice when he played. He set the tone, and he's reason honest, hard working, respected hockey players are often my favourites. I'm a huge fan of Jarome Iginla, Vincent Lecavalier, and Martin St. Louis because I feel they play the game with the same integrity Saku Koivu did.
It's funny (and sad), the only fans I ever really hear criticize Saku Koivu are Habs fans themselves. Sometimes it's because he was the Captain of the team during some of their worst seasons, and they never won a Cup while he was a Hab. The fact that he wasn't completely fluent in French often got him some heat, as well. I don't know, I'll never understand it.
He may not have always been the Canadiens' best player, but he was a someone you could be proud to call your favourite player. He kept his head up, overcame incredible adversity, worked with the community, and always put the team first. He was the type of hockey player a fan should want as a Captain. What parent wouldn't be happy to find out their kid wants a Saku Koivu jersey for Christmas? I have three of them. I sold most of my jersey collection, but I'll never get rid of my Koivu jerseys.
Saku Koivu is the man. He's my hero, and he's my favourite hockey player of all time.
Thanks for reading.