Yes, there was pomp on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center, with the Wild pulling out all the stops to honor captain Mikko Koivu, who on Dec. 1 played in his 1,000th NHL game, all in a Minnesota sweater.
Problem for the Wild, though, was the circumstance that accompanied that pomp. Koivu, heartwarmingly surprised by the attendance of former teammates Marian Gaborik, Niklas Backstrom, Nick Schultz and Kyle Brodziak, was dressed in uniform and skated onto the ice for the silver stick celebration but would not play because of a lower-body injury suffered Dec. 3.
The Wild sure could have used a responsible, two-way centerman who wins faceoffs. Without Koivu, the Wild lost 3-2 in a shootout to Anaheim. Any feel-good bump from the feting of the captain disappeared quickly as the Ducks took a 2-0 lead while outshooting the Wild 14-1 in the opening period.
“To start out that first period like that, to get one shot on goal at home, it’s pretty embarrassing,” a disgusted coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Boudreau’s feelings were shared by the non-sellout crowd of 17,154 that braved sub-zero temperatures. Some Bronx cheers accompanied the team to the locker room at the end of the first 20 minutes.
But enough of that clunker of a game, the Wild’s second consecutive loss since it briefly poked its head into the Western Conference’s top eight last week before falling four points out of that last wild-card playoff spot. Tuesday was Koivu’s night, and rightfully so for the steady, stoic Finn who’s allowed fans increased glimpses at his personality as his career hits the homestretch.
“Everything has been first-class, and that’s something I’ll never forget,’’ Koivu said of the ceremony.
While honoring Koivu, the Wild gave the captain and the fans in attendance a nice surprise by flying in those four former teammates. When Gaborik, the team’s first true star, walked onto the carpet, the roars grew louder. Ditto for when the scoreboard video tribute featured former Wild coach Jacques Lemaire from Florida, complete with palm trees in the background.
Gaborik, who traveled from Vienna, Austria, to honor Koivu, embraced more than just hockey with his former teammate.
“We weren't just teammates on the ice. We were also friends off the ice,’’ said Gaborik, who’s under contract with the Ottawa Senators but hasn’t played this season because of back surgery in April. “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 processes. I'm grateful I got to play with him.’’
Added Backstrom, who flew in from Finland: “I think for all the players who played with him, Mikko meant a lot and helped us out a lot -- especially me.’’
Koivu, a 15-year NHL veteran, appreciated how the ceremony allowed old friends to get together and how it gave him a chance to reflect.
“You keep hearing that when you’re a young player, ‘Just enjoy it. It goes fast,’ ’’ he said. “… Today, I really realized how fast it goes.’’