Wild captain Mikko Koivu tried to get in touch with former teammates in recent days, in the lead-up to the team recognizing him for playing in his 1,000th game Dec. 1, but no one answered his calls.
"Now I understand why," Koivu said.
Marian Gaborik, Niklas Backstrom, Nick Schultz and Kyle Brodziak surprised Koivu during a pregame ceremony Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center before the Wild's 3-2 shootout loss to the Ducks, sharing the ice with Koivu and his family as the center was honored for reaching the milestone.
"I've got to say thank you to the organization about everything," Koivu said after the game. "It's been first class. I think that was something that I'll never forget. Not only for me, but for those guys, too. It shows their appreciation for the organization, for those guys and what they've done and how they built the culture around here early on when the team first got here and then when I first got here."
Suited up in his gear even though he was unable to play because of a lower-body injury, Koivu waved to the crowd before joining his wife, Helena, their three children and his parents on the ice.
During a video tribute that included highlights of Koivu's career, coach Bruce Boudreau, current teammates and former ones — such as Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Brian Rolston, Backstrom and Gaborik — passed along their congratulations. Koivu's brother, Saku, also was featured, saying, "I'm so proud of you, brother," and former Wild coach Jacques Lemaire shared a video message during the first period.
"I'm going to look at it once I get home and by myself and can really think about it and all that," said Koivu, who became just the 55th player in NHL history to play his first 1,000 games with the same team.
Aside from getting the traditional silver stick to commemorate 1,000 games, Koivu was gifted a crystal, a watch and a vacation for him and his family. Children's Minnesota, where Koivu is the title sponsor of two private patient rooms, also received a $5,000 donation.
"We weren't just teammates on the ice," said Gaborik, the Wild's all-time leading goal scorer. "We were also friends off the ice. It wasn't just going out to dinners and talking small talk. We had some serious conversations, and I think I guided him through some process. I'm grateful I got to play with him. We had some good times."
Koivu acknowledged he was frustrated to get hurt last Tuesday in Florida, but he said he's improving.
"I got better news after we talked to the docs and all that," he said. "So right now it looks good. Just have to be patient and make sure I'm good to go. "
Defenseman Brennan Menell got word Monday he'd be making his NHL debut against the Ducks.
"I feel that I worked hard to get here," Menell said. "Now it's just about proving myself and proving what I can do."
A Woodbury native who grew up cheering for the Wild, Menell was expecting about 20 family members and friends be at his first game. He became the 28th Minnesota-born player to suit up for the Wild and sixth to make his debut with the team.
Before his first shift, Menell had the ice to himself for a bit during the team's pregame warmup.
"Definitely a lot of butterflies doing the first lap," said Menell, who played 10 minutes, 23 seconds. "That was kind of when it set in, like this is the time, this is it, so I was a little nervous at first. … After the first period I settled in and felt pretty good."