Our Senior Staff Writer Andrea Gordon shares this special tribute to one of the best Captains the Montréal Candiens have seen. Her close personal experience with cancer makes his even more touching. Enjoy!
1,124, The amount of games Saku Koivu played.
792, The amount of games he wore the CH with pride.
593 – The amount of those games he Captained Les Glorieux.
No matter the numbers, one thing nobody will forget is Saku Koivu, the man.
He’ll never be idolized for the amount of goals he scored (191) nor the total points he put up (641). He will forever be remembered as the Captain who stole our hearts by wearing his heart on his sleeve.
A lot of us grew up thinking of hockey players as unbreakable and indestructible, but he demonstrated to us that no matter how many times you’re thrown down, you get up again and fight.
I’ll never forget the day back in 2001, when I sat in front of my TV as the Habs had called a press conference.
Staring at the screen I was wondering- “Was there a big trade? Had we fired our coach?”. But that wasn’t it. The Montreal Canadiens President Pierre Boivin sat there, with what looked like tears in his eyes.
He sat there and told the world that our Captain, our leader, was going into the biggest battle of his life. A fight against Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I remember tears filling my eyes, It was a battle I knew all too well as it’s one my Father lost many years before.
I said right then and there to anybody who would listen – “Saku Koivu WILL play hockey this season”. People thought I was crazy, but it was a feeling.
Being only 16 going on 17, and at the mercy of my mother to buy my hockey tickets, I picked a game at the end of the season to go to.
The media kept us as up to date as they could on his condition, and then rumblings in March that a comeback may be possible before the season ended began to brew.
April 9th 2002 was the day and with my tickets in hand I made my way to the Mecca of Hockey. I stood there with the 21,272 other fans in the crowd and cheered, clapped and cried as Saku Koivu made his return to hockey. It’s a moment that will forever be etched in my memory.
With that diagnosis Saku entered our hearts even more than before and he showed this city his appreciation in setting up the Saku Koivu foundation. Determined to get another PET scanner into Montreal’s major hospital, in Koivu fashion he succeeded. His name lives on the walls at the Montreal General hospital, and we continue to thank him for his love and support of the city of Montreal.
That campaign earned #11 the Bill Masterton trophy.
I’ll never forget September 2002, when the Canadiens were holding a fan jam, and I was determined to meet and speak to Le Capitaine. I was only 5 when my father lost his battle, and to see how far this horrible disease has come and how many survive it, he inspired me.
Saku came down and started shaking the hands of fans. To my surprise I was going to be one of them! I’ll never forget that moment. All I could say to him was “Thank You!”
He stopped, almost looking puzzled and asked me “Why are you thanking me?” Emotions overwhelming me, I let him know quickly how I had lost my father to the same disease, and how happy I was to see how far the treatments have come and how it’s become one of the more curable cancers. He took my hand in his again and said to me “Thank You”.
It was a quick encounter but one that touched my heart in ways I could never explain.
That’s who he was, a hockey player but more-so, a man. One who fought his battle publicly and showed us all his strength and determination.
Saku Koivu will always be the Captain of my generation, who led by example.
And for all of that I say – “Thank You”