LAS VEGAS – Halfway across the ocean, in the middle of their flight from Helsinki to Las Vegas, Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund realized something.
"We both forgot our U.S. phones," Koivu said, laughing hard.
That would make a number of things tricky over the next four days, like setting up a dinner reunion of last year's red-hot Jason Zucker-Koivu-Granlund line, one of the biggest reasons Koivu and Granlund are in Zucker's hometown this week.
"We figured it out," Koivu said. "My wife called his wife, and we'll try to get together."
Asked who will pick up that bound-to-be hefty tab, Granlund said, "Well, Zucker … because it's his town."
"No, no, no. Probably me again," Koivu barked. "I know it's not Granny. He never pays. And Zucker, we know him, he's not going to pay. So, me … again!"
Koivu and Granlund are in Las Vegas for Wednesday night's NHL Awards Show as Selke Trophy and Lady Byng Trophy finalists, respectively.
Granlund recently got back from Greece. Koivu's looking forward to going to Wimbledon with his brother, Saku, next month.
They already have been training for next season for a month, although Koivu said the rigorous workouts have another benefit.
"Now you can actually enjoy this," Koivu said, "and you don't have to worry about having fun in this city. Every time you get to be part of something like this, the NHL does it first class, so you want to really enjoy it and have fun with it, and then after … you get back at it."
Koivu might be 34, but he's surprisingly a Vegas rookie.
"This is my first time here," Koivu said. "It is different."
"Yeah, it's not like Finland here," Granlund said.
Outside, it was 111 degrees. But inside an air-conditioned cafe in the lobby of the Encore Hotel, Koivu and Granlund were relaxed as they each ordered coffee with milk and a Perrier.
After arriving Sunday night, Koivu and his wife, Helena, and Granlund and his girlfriend, Emmi, went for dinner, played blackjack and walked around the vast resort.
Monday and Tuesday morning were spent shopping, people-watching and taking in the sights. The afternoons were devoted to sunbathing and lounging in the pool. They saw the show, Le Reve, at the Wynn.
Underrated no more
Koivu, the Wild's first-round pick 16 years ago this Friday, is entering his 13th season with the Wild and was named captain in 2009. Yet, after years of being regarded one of the NHL's best defensive forwards, he's finally receiving recognition alongside the protégé he has shown the ropes to ever since Granlund broke into the NHL 4½ years ago.
"I'm happy Mikko is getting some deserved national attention," Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. "He has had a heck of a career."
At 25, Granlund is almost nine years younger than Koivu. There's no doubt he's part friend/part kid brother. Granlund ribs the steely-eyed vet constantly, yet the respect is unmistakable.
"When you're around Mikko, you're always a little bit intimidated. I still get that feeling. No … just kidding," said Granlund, who seriously was kidding. "Mikko made it easy for me. He was a huge help. Same with [former Wild goalie Niklas] Backstrom. Mikko still is.
"I know Mikko, and he knows me. We get along pretty good. It's not always perfect, but we get over it and move on."
Both are humbled to be in Vegas.
The Selke is for the NHL's best defensive forward. Koivu's challengers are Anaheim's Ryan Kesler, who won the award in 2011, and Boston's Patrice Bergeron, a three-time winner.
Koivu, the Wild's career leader in games played, assists, points and several other categories, had 58 points in 80 games last season, had a career-high plus-27 and ranked fifth in the NHL in faceoff wins (938), sixth in faceoffs taken (1,699) and 11th in faceoff winning percentage (. 552, minimum 1,100 faceoffs). He led Wild forwards in ice time (19:07 a game).
"It shows you right away that if you're playing on a good team, you get a better chance of being recognized," Koivu said. "That's the difference for any player. I was able to play [on the same] line almost for the whole year, and I know just one gets recognized, but it takes a team effort and we were good defensively all year as a team.
"The longer you're in the league, the more you realize you need good people around you. When the team's winning, I think every individual feels a lot better."
The Lady Byng goes to the player who "exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability." Granlund led the Wild with a career-high 69 points and only had 12 penalty minutes despite averaging 18:49 a game. He established career highs with 26 goals, 43 assists and a plus-23.
At first, Granlund didn't really understand the meaning of the award or know if a "gentlemanly" award was something a hockey player should take pride in. Then, he saw Johnny Gaundreau and Vladimir Tarasenko were the other finalists and past award winners include Wayne Gretzky, Stan Mikita, Mike Bossy, Ron Francis, Joe Sakic and Pavel Datsyuk.
"You see the players that have won, it's a big honor," Granlund said. "Every player doesn't get here, and hopefully it'll be a nice evening."
Koivu said his young countryman, friend and linemate should be proud.
"I don't think there's a chance you're not going to be a great player when you have the work ethic and skills Granny has," Koivu said. "To have the tools that he has and the head he has on his shoulders, you knew sooner or later he'd [break] out. I think people see that now because of the points that he had last year, but as a teammate, you always know. It's been there all the time. Sure, he took it to another level, that's obvious. But I've always seen the potential. It was only a matter of time that the points would come.
"The awards show will be fun, and it's cool to be here with him."