Wearing a suit in the tunnel leading to the Wild bench before Thursday’s game against Tampa Bay, Mikko Koivu sheepishly gave a wave when the Wild paid homage to its five Olympians.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t be in uniform during the send-off. On Friday, he officially announced he won’t be able to be in Finland’s baby blue uniform during the Olympics, either.
Koivu, the Wild captain who dreamed of assuming the same role for his beloved Suomi, had to bow out of representing his country in his third Olympics because of a right ankle injury that hasn’t allowed him to suit up for his NHL team since Jan. 4.
“I just don’t feel healthy enough to feel that I can play at the level that I want,” Koivu said. “I really think it’s not fair for my teammates with Minnesota, with Team Finland, the management in Team Finland and most important it’s not fair for myself either.
“It’s been going on the last two weeks, but for sure the last week, just back and forth the emotions have been up and down. Had a good day, then the following day it would be worse. Just the level that I’ve been skating by myself, I haven’t been practicing with my team that’s here, I just don’t think it’s fair to anyone to play for Team Finland.”
Koivu said doctors insist his ankle is healing properly. He tried to accelerate recovery by having surgery to insert screws on Jan. 6, but still experiences pain when he skates.
“It’s a different kind of pain, too, for example if you hurt your knee,” Koivu said. “[Knee injuries are] a little stiff and wears off and gets better the longer you skate. With this one, it’s the opposite. It’s good for 10, 15 minutes and then the pain just starts building up.”
So Koivu has been instructed to take some time off from skating and rest his ankle. He plans to begin skating before the Wild’s non-Olympians resume practicing Feb. 19. The Wild’s next game is Feb. 27 in Edmonton.
“I thought I would be going to Sochi right now if you asked me that three weeks ago,” he said. “Now I’m just going to go day by day.”
Koivu won a silver medal in the 2006 Olympics in Turin and a bronze medal in 2010 in Vancouver. He captained Finland to a gold medal in the 2011 world championships.
“It’s hard,” he said. “Obviously we’ve been having lots of success in the past and the feeling to represent your country, especially in the Olympic Games, it’s something as an athlete that doesn’t happen very often and who knows if it’s going to happen again with the NHL.
“But you just have to put the emotions away.”
The Wild will still have four other players representing their countries. Zach Parise will captain the United States with Ryan Suter serving as alternate captain. Nino Niederreiter will represent Switzerland, while Mikael Granlund’s role should grow after Friday’s announcements that Koivu and Valtteri Filppula (ankle) won’t play.
“I expect a lot from him,” Koivu said of Granlund. “But obviously you don’t want to put any pressure on him either. It’s not about, obviously, one player. It’s about the team.”
• Predators General Manager David Poile, struck by a puck at Nashville’s morning skate at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday, underwent two successful surgical procedures in the nose and eye areas and received stitches to repair a facial laceration. He remained under observation at a St. Paul hospital Friday. Poile, who also is the United States’ men’s hockey Olympic GM, won’t travel to Sochi on Sunday but is expected to join the team later during the Olympics.
• Predators broadcaster Pete Weber, who suffered a heart attack Thursday at Xcel Energy Center, was released from a St. Paul hospital Friday after undergoing a heart procedure Thursday.