Desire to win burns in Wild captain Koivu

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 21, 2011 - 9:44 PM

The Wild has not been to the playoffs since the 2007-08 season. That does not sit well with the team captain.

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Water spotted the visor on Wild's Mikko Koivu helmet, as thousands of hockey fans attended the first open scrimmage for the Wild at Xcel Energy center.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Mikko Koivu got a big taste of what it's like to celebrate the pinnacle of success this offseason.

A hundred thousand hockey fanatics flooded downtown for one gargantuan party to celebrate the championship of a team Koivu captained.

Koivu was treated like royalty, getting to twirl with the president on stage, and getting to address the screaming, crying, drinking crowd that considered him the king of heroes.

Unfortunately for Wild fans, this gala took place across the Atlantic in Helsinki, Finland, rather than on the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

In May, Koivu helped lead Finland to its first world championship in 16 years.

"I think people here don't understand how big a deal it is for us when you win it," Koivu said. "When you see people running in the streets and swimming in the water fountains naked, it was just nuts."

The elation of victory reminded Koivu just how much he craves winning in Minnesota. Koivu, raring to go after spending the summer fulfilling his Army commitment in Finland, doesn't want to play in the world championships ... every ... single ... year.

Nobody's surlier after a defeat than Koivu. The man despises losing, so you know the past three years have been no fun.

"Frustrating," Koivu snapped.

The NHL is where Koivu makes his living. It's the Wild that's paying him $7.29 million this season in the first year of a seven-year, $47.25 million contract to help captain the franchise to new heights. It's Minnesota where he lives the majority of the year, having just moved from downtown Minneapolis to the western suburbs.

"It was fun to be part of that team, but it made me more hungry," said Koivu, 28, who was drafted by the Wild 10 years ago and begins his seventh NHL season without ever getting past the first round of the playoffs.

"I want to be part of a team that has success here. It's a lot more fun to win than lose. I remember the feeling of winning [in 2007 and 2008]. You know when your team is good. I want to get back to that."

That's why Koivu was ecstatic when the Wild, the NHL's fifth-lowest-scoring team last year, acquired snipers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi over the summer.

Koivu hit the ice for the first time Saturday with Heatley and Setoguchi as linemates after three years of playing alongside Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen.

Koivu has never scored more than 22 goals and 71 points. Could playing alongside Heatley, a two-time 50-goal scorer, and Setoguchi, who scored 31 goals in 2008-09, trigger Koivu's breakout?

"I have very, very high hopes for Mikko," first-year coach Mike Yeo said. "I'm not going to say he's going to get 125 points next year, but I know one thing, he's going to have a great chance to succeed with the players he's going to have around him.

"One thing I already started talking to Mikko about is I'm going to push for that guy to win the Selke Trophy [NHL's best defensive forward]. I don't know if he's going to win the Hart [MVP] next year, but I believe he can win the Selke. In order to do that, you have to get a lot of points, but you also have to be great defensively."

And Koivu says he will not alter his game. He hopes to score more, but he won't cheat to do so.

"The points will be there if we play good hockey, but I take pride for my defense and I believe it's a big part of winning hockey," Koivu said.

In pre-camp skates, Heatley and Setoguchi began creating chemistry with Koivu. Heatley mostly played with star center Joe Thornton, who likes to hold the puck and draw defenders to him, in San Jose.

"There's more movement with Mikko, more give-and-gos, quicker passes," Heatley said. "Mikko is one of the best. Having played against him, you know he's such a great player. But when you play with him, you realize how good he actually is and the plays he can make and what he sees out there."

Koivu is taking the lead of Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher in not talking about the playoffs and instead the "process" of becoming a perennial winner. Koivu loves that the Wild keeps adding quality prospects such as Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle and Zack Phillips.

Most players don't have the luxury to think like this. Most players, especially those late in contracts or up in age, want to win now.

But Koivu is on a seven-year deal. He accepts the long-term objective. Fletcher wants there to be an assumed level of greatness for the Wild like there is for the Detroit Red Wings.

"I want this team to be there year after year, not just one," Koivu said. "The process is just beginning. It's going to take a lot of work. We have to become a team. ... I take pride in this organization being a first-class organization, and I want everybody else to feel the same that we're a winning, classy, first-class organization."

  • WILD TRAINING CAMP Preseason opener: 8 p.m. Tuesday at Edmonton • No TV (100.3-FM)

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