The last time there was a World Cup of Hockey, Mikko Koivu had yet to play in an NHL game. He was a 21-year-old on Team Finland, which advanced to the final before losing to Canada 3-2 on Sept. 14, 2004, in Toronto.
Two days later, the 2004-05 NHL season was suspended because of a lockout, and Koivu spent the season playing for the Wild’s minor league team in Houston.
This year, Koivu is expected to captain the Finnish team for World Cup of Hockey 2016. The tournament runs Sept. 17 to Oct. 1 in Toronto and matches eight teams — Finland, the Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden, Team Europe (players from other European countries), the United States, Canada and Team North America (players from the United States and Canadian who are 23 and younger).
Each team named a preliminary 16-player roster Wednesday, with remaining players named by June 1. Wild players Koivu and Mikael Granlund were named to Team Finland; Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are on Team USA; and Thomas Vanek (Austria) is on Team Europe. Still candidates are defenseman Jonas Brodin (Sweden) and forward Nino Niederreiter (Europe).
This is the third World Cup; the United States won the first in 1996.
“I had a chance to do it in ’04. It’s a little different the way they do it this year, but it’s always an honor to play for a country,” said Koivu, part of the 2004 Finland team that defeated the United States 2-1 in the semifinals at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild captain missed the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, when Finland and Granlund won a bronze medal.
“I think you realize when you do miss it that an opportunity to play for [your] country is not so often,” Koivu said.
Koivu, who will turn 33 on March 12, has played in two Olympics (winning silver in 2006, bronze in 2010); four world championships (captained Finland to gold in 2011); and two world junior championships.
Besides Parise, other native Minnesotans on Team USA are defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Ryan McDonagh and forwards T.J. Oshie, Derek Stepan and Blake Wheeler.
“Everyone’s going to be hungry and excited to play with the best and against the best,” Parise said on the NHL Network.
The Wild will be at full strength for Thursday’s game in Toronto. Winger David Jones, acquired from Calgary at Monday’s trade deadline, has received his work visa; Brodin, recovering from a broken foot, said he’s ready to play; and winger Jason Zucker, concussed in the outdoor game against Chicago on Feb. 21, practiced Wednesday.
The Wild defeated Colorado 6-3 on Tuesday night in St. Paul, and coach John Torchetti was fairly happy with his team, meaning he might not tinker much with the lineup.
“We’ll see,” he said. “We definitely want to stay healthy, and it’s going to be competitive to get in the lineup now. Certain guys are playing well, and you’ve got to work to stay in there, and other guys have got to wait their turn.”
Jones is likely to play in Toronto. “We’ll try to fit him in the lineup maybe tomorrow, and go from there,” Torchetti said.
On Brodin and Zucker: “We’ll see. [Brodin will] skate in the morning and we’ll judge from there. Zucker same thing, we’ll see how he feels again.”
Brodin’s return would come exactly three weeks after he broke a bone in a foot.
“I hoped I would be back earlier, but it’s been pretty sore actually, but I feel good right now,” he said. “The doc said three to six weeks, so [three weeks], that’s pretty good.”
Charlie Coyle scored twice against the Avalanche on the eve of his 24th birthday, giving him a team-leading 21 goals. Playing on a line with Koivu and Zach Parise agrees with him.
“Charlie’s game has always been what he’s doing without the puck, to generate that speed and using his size,” Torchetti said. “I think putting him out there with Mikko defensively, he’s learned a lot that way. … Charlie’s learning a lot from him and Zach.”
Said Coyle: “I wanted to contribute more definitely [this season]. Previous years I wasn’t satisfied, not even close. I’m trying to get myself open and into good shooting areas. My linemates are playing great and setting me up, so that’s been nice.”