ST. PAUL, Minn. – The puck hit hard on his hand, and Mikko Koivu knew right away he was hurt.
“I couldn’t hold my stick. Just the whole finger was numb,” Koivu said.
The Minnesota Wild are trying to avoid losing that feeling in their playoff push, with their captain and first-line centre out.
“Each guy has to take a little piece (of) that Koivu pie and divide it up equally and do their share,” coach Todd Richards said.
Koivu has a broken left index finger, but he doesn’t need surgery. The Wild were relieved to learn he’s expected back before the end of the regular season, though there’s no specific timetable for his return.
“I think I’m supposed to be back sooner than we first thought,” Koivu said. “The break is in a good spot, so that’s good news. Obviously frustrated, but I’ve got to deal with it and move on.”
Koivu spoke before Tuesday’s game against Edmonton for the first time since the injury, which occurred soon after his first-period goal in Friday’s win over Anaheim. He missed Sunday’s shootout loss to Detroit, and he’ll be absent for several more while the Wild fight for position in the extra-tight Western Conference race. When the day began, the Wild were in a five-way tie for seventh place.
“We’re right in the middle and things are going good and everybody’s having fun and playing hard for each other, and so the timing is probably the worst it can be,” Koivu said. “I think that makes it tough, but it is what it is and I’m just trying to work hard for it every day with the trainers and get back to practice as soon as possible.”
Koivu’s return will be boosted by his ability to continue skating and maintain cardiovascular conditioning while he’s out.
“Obviously when you go to the game again, it’s a lot easier when you’ve been skating and you can stay in shape,” he said. “Just the shooting and then faceoffs and that kind of stuff, that’s going to be hard at first I’m sure but I’m sure I’ll be just fine.”
The Wild added veterans Matt Cullen and John Madden for this season, depth at centre that has suddenly become even more valuable. Kyle Brodziak has played well, too, and he’ll centre the second line with Martin Havlat and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Rookie Cody Almond will be pressed into more duty, too.
“To lose a guy like that, everyone’s got to step up their game that much more,” Brodziak said. “It’s a good opportunity. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Cullen will move up to the first line and take Koivu’s place between Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen.
“It’s going to be a feeling out process,” Brunette said. “Like I said, communication will be key. We’re all smart hockey players. We’ll figure it out.”
Left wing Guillaume Latendresse, a 25-goal scorer in just 55 games for the Wild last season, has resumed skating with the team this week after needing two surgeries in late November—for a torn labrum in his hip and for a bilateral sports hernia. His return could help counter some of the offence lost without Koivu.
Koivu leads the team with 34 assists. His 15 goals are tied for third behind Havlat and Cal Clutterbuck, but his value transcends scoring. He’s strong on defence and an important contributor on special teams. Plus there’s that “C” patch he wears on his jersey.
“He’s the guy that really sets the table for work ethic and how you compete and those other things that you probably really don’t even think about,” Richards said. “You just think about his production and the things he does out on the ice, but he brings so much more.”