CALGARY, ALBERTA – Mikko Koivu’s third Olympic Games could be in jeopardy.
The Wild captain, expected to be named captain of Finland’s Olympic team, hasn’t played for the Wild since having ankle surgery Jan. 6.
Koivu returned to Minnesota from Denver on Thursday and has yet to practice with the Wild, so it’s unlikely h e will play in either of the Wild’s final two games before the Olympic break, against Tampa Bay on Tuesday or Nashville on Thursday.
“He wasn’t ready to skate with the team, so we sent him home,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “I think everything’s fine [in terms of his healing]. We’ll know more next week and see how he feels with respect to the Olympics.”
Koivu, who has missed 13 games, said last month he was “pretty confident” he would be able to play in the Olympics. But on Saturday, Fletcher said: “I don’t want him playing if he’s still injured. It was a pretty aggressive timeline. It’s six-to-eight weeks usually with this injury and the hope is surgery speeds that up.
“But it hasn’t even been four weeks since surgery. He’s doing the best he can in terms of rehab, but if he’s not ready, it’ll be hard for him to play.”
Jukka Koivu, Mikko’s father, was quoted Saturday by Finnish national broadcaster, YLE, also saying his son’s Olympics were in doubt.
“The situation is not quite clear, not at all,” said Jukka Koivu, adding, he too hopes that this week will bring “some certainty and more information about recovery and when he’ll be able to play.”
At the very least, coach Mike Yeo was asked Saturday if it’s doubtful Koivu plays the last two Wild games before the break.
“I would call Tuesday a long shot right now,” Yeo said, “and I don’t want to speculate at all beyond that.”
Older brother Saku Koivu declined Finland’s invitation to play in the Olympics, so if Mikko Koivu can’t play, Philadelphia’s Kimmo Timonen or future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne would likely captain Finland.
Olympic rosters must be submitted 24 hours before each country’s first game. Finland opens against Austria on Feb. 13.
Zucker back in lineup
After being scratched the previous three games, Jason Zucker returned Saturday against the Calgary Flames and skated in a top-six forward role with Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle.
Yeo has been vague the past week as to why Zucker was scratched, saying it more had to do with the trickle-down effect of Zach Parise’s return to the lineup from a broken foot.
Saturday morning though, Yeo said it was more about “fit” and the fact rugged Mike Rupp wouldn’t be intimidated playing against physical teams, particularly on the road.
“We’ve seen a different game from our team and from [Zucker] playing against some of these heavy teams on the road, so that’s why we used the different lineup,” Yeo said.
Zucker has been promoted from AHL Iowa five times this season. But he has stayed on the Wild roster this time since Jan. 2. “I’ve got to try to eliminate all mistakes in my game,” he said. “I’ve got to be strong defensively, I’ve got to be strong on the wall. At the blue line, I’ve got to get the puck in deep.
“Until I do that consistently, I may be up and down. Lately I’ve been focusing on that a lot.”
With Calgary one of those “heavy” teams, Rupp played against the Flames and Torrey Mitchell, who has one goal in 53 games, was scratched for the first time this season.
“I’m not taking Fonzie [Justin Fontaine] out, so somebody has to come out,” Yeo said.
Competition at D
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon’s return is on hold. He missed his 14th consecutive game Saturday because of a foot injury, meaning a likely return Tuesday.
“We would have had a tough decision [who to take out] if he was coming into the lineup,” Yeo said. “Guys have elevated their game. Stony’s [Clayton Stoner] playing a physical game, Bally’s [Keith Ballard] has taken his game to another level and Pross [Nate Prosser], we’ve seen what he’s come in and done.”
Yeo said all three probably sense the return of Spurgeon and have lifted their game knowing one of them will come out.
“That’s probably part of it,” Yeo said. “They go into every game making sure they’re ready to go and making sure they have that urgency.”