Koivu feeling comfortable at home
Forty minutes outside his hometown of Turku, Finland, Mikko Koivu owns a cottage where he spends most of his summer days.
Nestled on Finland's southern coast, it is where the Wild captain hosts family and friends for traditional Finnish feasts of reindeer meat and ham, throws parties, relaxes in his sauna and cruises the Baltic Sea on his boat.
"The first three hours, there are islands all around you. Just everywhere. Island after island," Koivu said. "There's all kinds of fishes, a lot different than the fish you get here. I fish for pike a lot, but it's not a good fish to eat."
Koivu is stereotypically Finnish. He has a hard exterior, one that's not easy to bulldoze through. He can be stoic and private, a bit moody, incredibly humble and at work, all business.
Get Koivu outside the rink, though, and the big blond Finn starts to drop that outer shell. He's quick-witted, jokes around, has fascinating views on just about anything and enjoys his coffee, his beer and his "buddies."
He didn't buy a Maserati to celebrate the richest contract in Wild history July 15 -- a seven-year, $47.25 million extension that will keep the relentless center in Minnesota until he's at least 35.
He took a weeklong boat trip with his buddies. "It was good," said Koivu, 27, with a naughty grin. "But what happens in the boat stays in the boat."
It's a safe bet nobody forgot the Koskenkorva Viina (as Koivu says, "traditional Finnish vodka") and Karhu (Koivu's favorite beer). "I'm not a big fan of vodka," Koivu says of Finland's other beverage of choice. "But you can't have beer all the time, so if it's a [special occasion], then I'll have my vodka."
'Small city' guy
Throughout training camp, written on a marker board inside the Wild's locker room were various "Finland Facts" as the team prepared for its business trip/exploration of its captain's homeland.
"180,000 lakes" ... "Pride of country (Suomi)." "Highest per capita coffee drinkers" ... "1 sauna for every 2 Finns."
True. True. True. And true, says Koivu.
"Turku's a lot different from where Bax is from," Koivu said, referring to goalie Niklas Backstrom's hometown of Helsinki, the capital and largest city of Finland and where the Wild will spend most of the next eight days after its scheduled arrival Friday.
"Turku, it's a small city. Pretty much everybody knows everyone. I kind of like that. The river [Aurajoki] runs right between the city. During the summertime, when I'm there, everything, and I mean everything, happens on that river.
Koivu loves that small-town feel, and he takes advantage of it. "Bax, he doesn't even go downtown that much. In my city, I go downtown every day," Koivu said. "If I go by myself, I'll run into tons of friends to go get a beer with. That's pretty cool about Turku. It doesn't matter where you go, you always find a friend."
From sauna to sea
So is the whole Finnish sauna thing a myth?
"No way," Koivu said, laughing, again with that grin. "I've got one in my summer home, in my condo, in my friend's condos, in their summer homes."
It's Koivu's biggest form of relaxation. At his cottage, his sauna is a separate building that seats five. "You heat it up with wood," Koivu said. "So the first thing I do when I get to my cottage is change my clothes and go straight to the sauna. To do all the work, it takes an hour to heat it up.
"So I love all the work you do before that. Just the process. It's just relaxing.
"I love it. I mean, love it."
He'll heat the sauna to 80 degrees Celsius (176 degrees Fahrenheit) and sometimes will spend a half-hour in there, sometimes three hours.
He will sit in the sauna, then go for a swim -- by jumping right into the Baltic, then back to the sauna.
"No pool. In the sea," he said, smiling. "When you get back to the sauna, the water is still cold, so your blood is pumping and it's more relaxing afterward. It's un-be-lievable. Unbelievable."
The other thing Koivu adores? "I love my coffee," he says, usually accompanying his kahvi with a different kind of pulla (like a Finnish muffin). "I mean, I don't go crazy on it. I'll do one in the morning, a couple in the afternoon, and after lunch.
"It's a cultural thing. That's the one thing I miss here. On weekends, or even during the week after work in Finland, you just go for a coffee. I mean you actually go to a coffee place and sit down for a half-hour, or an hour, with friends and just have a coffee and just talk and relax.
"We don't really have that [in Minneapolis]. That's the one thing I miss."
Most popular Finn
Koivu gets a twinkle in his eyes when he thinks about opening the regular season next Thursday and Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes in front of family, friends and admiring fans.
According to Finnish reporters, Koivu is Finland's most popular hockey player right now, overtaking his brother, Saku, and Teemu Selanne, more popular than fellow Turku natives Miikka Kiprusoff, Sami Salo and Antero Niittymaki.
"Everywhere Mikko goes, people know him, people like him, people follow him," Timo Kunnari, a producer for MTV3, the largest commercial TV station in Finland, said during the Olympics.
"He's like a rock star. People in Finland believe he'll be the leader for our hockey for the next 10 years."
Koivu, blushing, said, "I never heard that actually. I don't know what to answer for that," adding sarcastically, "You can always trust [reporters]."
The one thing that is for sure is Koivu's dream is to one day bring the Stanley Cup home.
"Realistically, I think nobody can say we have a Stanley Cup team. You've got to have a playoff team, and then I believe everything will happen," Koivu said. "I believe we're on a good way to getting a playoff team. I wouldn't sign seven years if I didn't believe we can eventually win a Stanley Cup."
And if that happens, you can bet that silver prize will experience its first sauna.
"Oh, yeah," Koivu said, again with that naughty grin.