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Saku Koivu of the Anaheim Ducks. (Jeff Gross/2009 Getty Images)
Saku Koivu of the Anaheim Ducks. (Jeff Gross/2009 Getty Images)

Eric Duhatschek

Koivu passes chemistry test Add to ...

The NHL's schedule maker occasionally shows a keen sense of timing - and nowhere is that more evident than in the first full week of the 2009-10 regular season.

We get to see Koivu v. Koivu right off the top and the chance to revisit the decision made by the former Montreal Canadiens captain to seek his fortune in sunny California.

The day after his Anaheim Ducks laid an egg in a home-opening loss to the San Jose Sharks, Saku Koivu was at practice, wearing his new team's unofficial off-day uniform - shorts, sandals and a T-shirt.

Even with a game against younger brother Mikko's Minnesota Wild next up on the schedule, Koivu's inquisitors amounted to exactly two reporters. It is just one of the many culture changes for the 34-year-old, who was told by the Canadiens last June that after nine years as team captain, they were going down a different path.

Koivu pondered the Wild as an option, but ultimately chose to join old friend and Finnish countryman Teemu Selanne with the Ducks - about as radical a move as possible within the geography and culture of the NHL. Even though they've played together on national teams in the past, it so far hasn't exactly been a match made in hockey heaven.

"I remember when I got here in '96, trying to find chemistry with Paul Kariya," said Selanne, who began his NHL career in a Canadian hockey hotbed as well, with the old Winnipeg Jets. "It takes about three four months before it starts really clicking. After that, it's just easy to play.

"That's why I said to Saku, 'Let's be patient. Let's work on different things. Let's try to talk, watch videos and let's do what it takes to learn those things.' One day, when it starts clicking it's going to be fun. It's still fun."

While the pressure to win exists at all levels of professional sport, the ability to fade anonymously into the community is something Koivu will eventually come to enjoy, Selanne predicted.

"It's only been a month now," Koivu said, "and the first couple of weeks were pretty busy with off-ice stuff - moving from Montreal, getting a new place and moving in. There is a lot of paperwork and things to get done.

"The hockey stuff? The adjustment period's gone smoothly, but it's going to take some more time and I've just got to be patient now."

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is willing show the necessary patience. Having played in both Toronto and Winnipeg during his own career - and knowing the attention paid to Koivu as the captain in Montreal - Carlyle figures his newest recruit isn't going to miss the swarms of reporters minutely dissecting every loss. It is an experience Carlyle - with a hearty belly laugh - likened to having "a root canal done with very little freezing, that's how bad it can be."

"It is what it is and that's part of the responsibility," the coach said. "When you wear that sweater in Montreal, you deal with those issues."

Ideally, Koivu will help the Ducks get back to where they were two years ago, when they had greater balance on their scoring lines. Anaheim won the Stanley Cup in 2007, with a No. 1 line of Selanne, Andy McDonald and Chris Kunitz, which was supported by the emerging unit of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner.

Getzlaf and Perry, along with Bobby Ryan, eventually morphed into the team's top unit and may be the best young line in hockey now, but when McDonald was traded to the St. Louis Blues (largely for cap reasons), he was never properly replaced.

Selanne played with a revolving cast of linemates last season, and generally made his presence felt on the power play. But with Koivu and Joffrey Lupul in place now, the Ducks - potentially - have a line to take some of the pressure off Getzlaf's crew.

"Obviously, [Koivu]brings leadership qualities," Getzlaf said. "He's played in this league a long time and he's proven, year in and year out, that he can play. He brings that one-two punch on the first and second line. It creates two threats out there, rather than just having one to neutralize. It takes a little pressure off us and I'm sure it'll take a little pressure off him."

For tonight's game against the Wild, Koivu reiterated he seriously considered Minnesota's off-season contract offer, but ultimately rejected it because he didn't want to join them at the moment his younger brother was taking over the primary leadership role on the team.

"I just didn't feel like that was a spot to be - to compete for the same ice time and all that other stuff," he said. "There was obviously a lot of potential there, and if everything worked out well, it could have been a good thing, but the risk, I felt, was just too big. It just seemed a safer bet to play somewhere else."

As for missing Montreal, Koivu said while the city and team will always hold a place in his heart, the departure happened on good terms and he does feel refreshed and renewed in his new NHL home.

"The weather here and the lifestyle are great," Koivu said. "So far, we really enjoy it - and I can only see things getting better and being even more fun. Obviously, everything depends on how the team does - and if you win games, then there are no problems."







 

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