After an 18-year National Hockey League career, center Saku Koivu has decided to hang up the skates for good. His career consisted of two All-Star Game selections as well as being tied for the longest reigning captain in Montreal Canadiens history. He was also the first European-born player to ever lead the Habs onto the ice. He wore the C on his chest for Montreal for 14 years.
Koivu’s accomplishments, how mrever, are eclipsed by what was one of the most trying times in Canadiens history. Prior to the 2001-02 season, Koivu was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and was expected to miss the entire season undergoing treatment.
In one of the Canadiens last games of season on April 9, 2002, Koivu laced up his skates and took the ice as the captain. He received an eight-minute standing ovation in the Belle Centre without a dry eye in the house. Koivu took the opening faceoff despite being on the roster as the 4th-line center.
In the 2002-03 season, Koivu posted a career-high 71 points (21 goals, 50 assists) and had nearly the best season of his career. Not only did he overcome cancer, he went one step further and put together one of the greatest campaigns in NHL history. That season is one of the most inspiring stories in sports history.
Koivu achieved more than just remission in his NHL career. He played in over 1,000 games, scored over 250 goals and had over 575 assists. Koivu wasn’t a typical, one-dimensional scorer that hockey frequently sees today. His game was a circle of assets—he kept an arsenal of skills and maneuvers to peak the potential of his game. In his prime, Koivu’s ice knowledge was as good as anyone’s in the league. His intangibles brought a winning atmosphere that brought the Habs together in the 2000s.
Although he retired as an Anaheim Duck, Koivu will always be remembered as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Number 11 will go down in history as one of the most inspiring men to play the game. His dedication, admiration and selflessness brought him a lucrative and exciting career as an NHL player. Whether you’re a hockey fan or not, what Koivu accomplished on and off the ice is deserving of the utmost respect.