Few hockey players will receive a returning hero’s welcome quite like Anaheim Ducks center Saku Koivu is expected to enjoy tonight in Montreal, as Joe also discussed here.
The Finnish forward spent 13 seasons with the Canadiens, the team who drafted him in the first round in 1993. He was a captain for 10 seasons, scoring 191 goals and 450 assists for 641 points with the Habs.
Of course, the bond was made quite a bit stronger because of his emotional battle with cancer as well. Montreal fans greeted Koivu with an astounding eight minute standing ovation upon his return to the ice on April 9, 2002 (read all about that amazing night here).
Koivu became emotional merely discussing tonight’s game at a press conference, so one can only imagine how bad his “allergies” will become tonight.
“It’s a really unique and special bond between me and the city of Montreal and the people here,” Koivu said to close an opening statement to a room packed with reporters. “That doesn’t happen very often. The way they made us feel and what they gave us here, we’ll never forget that. I want to thank the people here for that. That was really amazing.”
As those final words left his lips, Koivu’s voice was shaking. He was having trouble getting them out. The emotion was palpable.
And that was just a press conference.
The emotions that will be coursing through Koivu’s veins Saturday as he makes the strange trip toward the visiting dressing room, pulls on his Ducks jersey and steps out in front of 21,273 fans who have waited a year and a half to express how much he meant to this city may very well overwhelm him.
“It’s going to be an emotional night, one I won’t forget for the rest of my life,” Koivu said. “It will be like I’m playing on home ice in a home arena, but I’ll be wearing a Ducks jersey.”
We’ll keep an eye on the proceedings in Montreal tonight and fill you in on the details later.