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Now reconnected with Wild, Mikko Koivu proud to have his No. 9 jersey retired

The 38-year-old Finn learned of the organization’s plans to retire his number this past offseason during a sit-down with Wild owner Craig Leipold.

Mikko Koivu has always been a man of very few words. So the fact that he talked to reporters for nearly 20 minutes Tuesday morning spoke to the importance of the moment.

Less than 24 hours earlier, the Wild announced that they will retire Koivu’s No. 9 jersey on March 13 at Xcel Energy Center. The ceremony will take place before the game against the Nashville Predators and will surely be met with raucous cheers for the longtime captain.

“It means a lot,” Koivu said. “I’m proud of it. I’m proud to be part of the Wild. I always have been.”

Now he always will be as his name will forever hang above the ice at the X.

The 38-year-old Finn learned of the organization’s plans to retire his number this past offseason during a sit-down with Wild owner Craig Leipold. At the time, Koivu was still coming to grips with his decision to retire from the NHL, and the news from Leipold sparked a lot of emotions for him.

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“You still miss the game and things like that,” said Koivu, who played briefly for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season before hanging up the skates. “Not that it’s a negative thing to retire. But it’s still a big change, right?”

Remember, the reason Koivu played for the Blue Jackets in any capacity is because the Wild chose not to re-sign him after his contract expired. Wild general manager Bill Guerin decided it was time to move in a new direction, and in order to do that, he knew he had to disconnect from the man who had become synonymous with the franchise over the past decade and a half.

Though it admittedly was a tough pill for Koivu to swallow at the time, he said he understands it better now that he’s gotten a glimpse of the other side.

Koivu has spent a good chunk of this season learning the ropes of management from Guerin and the rest of the Wild front office. He also has dabbled in coaching as an assistant with Team Finland ahead of the 2022 World Junior Championships.

Those experiences have given Koivu additional perspective. As difficult as it was for him to accept not being re-signed, Koivu had a chance to talk with Guerin in the months that followed, and now he’s getting to work alongside him from time to time.

“You start to realize why they have to make those tough decisions,” Koivu said. “That’s why they are in management. I can’t remember who taught me that. But I think the best advice is that the players play the game, coaches coach, and management (manages). I believe in that.

“As a player, you don’t always realize that. It’s part of the business. After a while you do realize the decisions that they have to make. And life goes on.”

The fact that Koivu has found his way back to the Wild is proof of that. His life went on. So did the organization’s life without him. And now they have reconnected.

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That doesn’t necessarily mean Koivu will be working for the Wild long term. He doesn’t have a defined role with the organization at the moment. He’s taking his time as he figures out what he wants to do with his future.

“I’m not ready to make my decision on that,” said Koivu, who plans to talk to former players who have been in a similar situation. “I guess the feeling for me right now is that I don’t want to jump into something that I’m not ready to go all in with.”

Not surprising. He always has been and always will be methodical in his approach.

In the meantime, Koivu is happy to be reconnected with the Wild, and is very much looking forward to having his No. 9 jersey raised into the rafters. It’s beyond clear how much this organization means to him.

“You look back over the years and what it meant to be a part of the team,” Koivu said. “It’s a big part of my life.”

Asked about some of the people that impacted his career, the usually stoic Koivu flashed some emotion, if only for a moment, mentioning former Wild general manager Doug Risebrough by name as well as legendary coach Jacques Lemaire.

“Usually when I was struggling I would call him,” Koivu said of Lemaire. “He probably knew when the phone rang and I was calling, ‘OK, it’s not going that well.’ ”

He also talked at length about some of his former teammates, bringing up how good friend Nick Schultz already reached out to congratulate him, and joking that he only recently got in touch with good friend Andrew Brunette after a couple of months of phone tag.

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“There’s so many names,” Koivu said. “I think it would be impossible to name them all.”

Maybe most importantly, Koivu wanted to convey how much the support from Wild fans meant to him throughout his career. He was worried he wouldn’t get a chance to do so with the way his career somewhat unceremoniously came to an end smack dab in the middle of the pandemic.

Thus, while the ceremony on March 13 will be all about Koivu, and for good reason, it also will be a chance for him to express his gratitude to the fan base.

“I didn’t get a chance to (do that),” he said. “That will be fun.”

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