I was in Anaheim before Christmas, to profile the 40-year-old Teemu Selanne, who was in the process of scoring a point-a-game at an age that no one beyond Gordie Howe or Johnny Bucyk had have ever managed. But while there, I also had a chance to catch up with the Anaheim Ducks' second-best known Finn, Saku Koivu, the former Montreal Canadiens' captain who will get a chance to play his ex-team for the first time back in Montreal this coming Saturday (Montreal visited Anaheim last year).
Anaheim opens a three-game swing through Eastern Canada with a visit to the Ottawa Senators tonight, another familiar foe from Koivu's first decade in the NHL, and presumably, he'll be a focal point on that team for the next few days. According to Koivu, his second year in Anaheim has gone far more smoothly than the first. He was saying that because he and his family were in Montreal for so long, they knew the off-ice adjustment wouldn't happen right away. It also took Koivu longer to get acclimated on the ice, where the Ducks team didn't play too badly in the early stages of last season, but they weren't getting a lot of wins - and the puck wasn't going in for Koivu. It made for some difficult moments early.
"When that happens for the first 10 or 12 games, then you start wondering 'what's going on?' Then Teemu got hurt (the first of two injuries he suffered last year).
"It got better in the second half. In the beginning, the kids were in school and crying for the first month. They were speaking French and they were asking, 'how do we say this in English? We don't know what they're saying.'"
But gradually, everyone adjusted - the family to life in southern California, Koivu to the Ducks' culture.
"This year, we have our home and the kids went to the same school and they knew the language, so it's just a lot, lot easier."
The Ducks were slow out of the gate again this season, but gradually played themselves back into playoff contention. At one stage of the season, Koivu had scored goals in five consecutive games. Overall, he has a thoroughly respectable 24 points in 47 games, as the Ducks try to stay in the Western Conference playoff race without team captain Ryan Getzlaf, out with multiple facial fractures.
And yes, Koivu is looking forward to his return to Montreal Saturday. In fact, he brought it up before I could.
"We see a lot of their games here before our games because of the time difference," explained Koivu. "I still have friends that I talk to in Montreal, but Montreal's team is so different in a very short time, that there are only two or three guys that I know, plus the training staff. that's about it. But I still follow them and (Craig) Rivet plays in Buffalo so I talk to him quite a bit about what's going on in the Eastern Conference."