MONTREAL – Emotions run high every time Saku Koivu returns to the Bell Centre. Thursday’s game will be no exception.
Koivu will surely relive many memories from his NHL career when he skates out onto the ice in a building he used to call home. Having spent 13 seasons as a member of the Canadiens, the Finnish centerman created countless defining moments during his tenure in Montreal, none more so than on the night of April 9th, 2002.
"It was one of the greatest moments I’ve experienced,” explained Michel Therrien, Koivu’s coach at the time. “I have been a part of many big moments during my career, but the fact that he overcame his illness and made a return the same year was a mark of extraordinary courage.”
Indeed, that remarkable resolve was saluted by the 21,273 fans in attendance, both teams, as well as the millions of viewers gathered in front of their screens to witness the triumphant comeback of the Habs’ captain. The home crowd’s thunderous ovation lasted nine minutes.
“I remember there being lots of emotion when we put his name in the starting lineup that night. Those were great memories. He was a good captain, a true warrior. He’s had a tremendous career,” emphasized Therrien, who will cross paths with the player he coached during three seasons for the second time since the Finn left Montreal for Anaheim in the summer of 2009.
While many seasons have come and gone since the spring of 2002, the Habs’ bench boss is reminded of the remarkable events of that year on a daily basis.
“It was so important for me that there’s still a picture of that day hanging on the wall in my home to commemorate the moment. There are things in life that leave an impression on you, and this was one of them,” recalled the 49-year-old, who first coached in the NHL back in 2000. “But the moment I remember best, was the ovation the Canadiens fans gave him. I even had to leave the bench and go back to the dressing room because the emotions were too strong.”
The Canadiens-Ducks matchup will likely be riddled with emotion, but the man behind the Montreal bench will be prepared to stand his ground this time around.
Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Jack Han.
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