Olympics Vital for Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild

Dec 19, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Minnesota Wild center Mikko Koivu (9) on the ice before playing the Pittsburgh Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With two games to go until the Olympic break, it’s looking highly unlikely Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu returns to the lineup before break begins on Sunday, February 9th.

As you can imagine, this means his Olympic hopes could be on hold–at least–for now, that is. It’s been over four weeks since Koivu sustained a broken ankle in a 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals. What was impressive was how he’d come back into the game, chipping in two assists while still logging 18:31 in ice time. Koivu would have surgery to repair the injury and has been skating and taking shots on his own for a while now, though he has yet to join his teammates in full practice.

He’s got a hard choice ahead of him right now. Either pass on playing for Finland–the team he is all but guaranteed to captain should he play–and get healthy, or play if given medical clearance. There are some extremists among the fan base calling for the “C” from the front of Koivu’s sweater should he miss the next two games yet play in the Olympics. Absolutely ridiculous.

The Olympic break is a time for many players to sit back, relax and refocus. That’s hard for some very talented teams to do, however, when half the roster is playing in the Winter games (here’s looking at you, Chicago). Minnesota is in an interesting situation where some key top players have the chance to expand and enhance their game with an international run prior to rejoining the team after the break. Youngsters Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter will head into the break as solid top-6 forwards, and will have the chance to play that role for their countries, as well. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are studs in their respective positions, and only the best is expected from them no matter if they’re in a Wild or USA sweater.

Koivu, on the other hand, hasn’t played in a good while, and, if he doesn’t play until after the Olympics, that’s nearly two months since his injury and he certainly won’t be pretty to watch for a while. He needs practice time, and he needs game time. Koivu is Minnesota’s captain and top line center, and the team is going to need him to play at the highest level he can if they’re going to hang on to a Wild card spot.

I can understand the premise behind people feeling it isn’t fair for him to not play the next few games and then go and play in the Olympics. This is a highly uneducated view, however. Koivu’s participation doesn’t hurt Minnesota–it’s only going to help him get back to elite form once the NHL’s regular season resumes. There’s no better training camp and physical therapy than the rigors of taking faceoffs, battling along the boards and cutting through the middle of the offensive zone for the goal against the best players the world has to offer.

However, all this is a moot point if he isn’t 100% healthy enough to play. If that’s the case, Wild fans can rest easy knowing “Kaptain K” will be healthy when the season resumes against the Edmonton Oilers on February 27th. Whether his game will be up to snuff is another matter altogether. In 44 games prior to getting hurt, Koivu would score eight goals and 27 assists for 35 points and a negative-4 rating. You can bet fans will be fully expecting that Koivu to return and not a subpar knockoff. Those are lofty expectations for a player who hasn’t played since January 4th. In other words, citizens of the State of Hockey should keep their fingers and toes crossed he’ll be cleared by team doctors to play in the Olympics.

Topics: Mikko Koivu, Winter Olympics

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