Friday, April 9, 2010
Monday, September 3rd, 2001 Saku Koivu of the Montreal Canadiens boarded a flight from his native Finland headed for Montreal in anticipation of the start of training camp for the upcoming season. It was during the flight that Koivu began to feel some stomach discomfort. It did not diminish, and in fact, persisted that night.
The next day he contacted the Canadiens team physician Dr. David Mulder with the news that his condition had worsened to the point that he was severely vomiting. Medication failed to curtail the symptoms so the next day Koivu entered the hospital for testing, which revealed the tumor in Koivu's stomach. Even worse, the tumor was cancerous.
The final diagnosis was non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Facing chemotherapy treatments, Koivu remained optimistic and upbeat and began to read Lance Armstrong's book "It's not About the Bike" for inspiration.
Koivu's treatment lasted until January of 2002 and it was announced that he was expected to make a full recovery. The assumption was that Koivu would begin getting back into shape and aim for a return to the Canadiens in time for training camp in September. Koivu had other ideas however, and began a rigorous training program with the goal of returning in time for that season's playoffs.
The Canadiens were in a battle with four other clubs for the remaining three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference heading into the final week of the season when Koivu caught everyone off guard by announcing on April 8th that he had completed his rehab and was ready to play in an effort to get the Canadiens into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
So, it was on this day in 2002 that Saku Koivu made his return from cancer to again play in the NHL. When Koivu came onto the ice that night the standing ovation continued on and on, lasting for eight minutes in one of the most memorable moments in NHL history. Montreal would go on to win the game 4-3 and accomplish what Koivu set out to do by locking up a playoff spot that night. Koivu would later score ten points in 12 playoff games as the Canadiens advanced to the second round of the playoffs, upsetting the rival Bruins in six games.
Following that season, Koivu was named the recipient of the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
Proving his disease was behind him, the next season Koivu participated in all 82 of the Canadiens games and set a then career high with 71 points.
In 2007, Koivu was awarded the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his humanitarian work with his Saku Koivu Foundation, which supports cancer and trauma care at the Montreal General Hospital.
Today's featured jersey is a 2002-03 Montreal Canadiens Saku Koivu jersey. This jersey features the Hockey Fights Cancer patch, worn for one game in January by each team's captain. The jerseys were then auctioned off at that seasons subsequent All-Star weekend to raise money for Hockey Fights Cancer, which has now raised more than $11 million through various fundraising efforts.
The Hockey Fights Cancer jersey patches were worn from 2001 to 2004 and again in 2008. The original black and orange patches did not have the year, which was added for the following three seasons. The 2008 version was done in a new black and sliver color scheme to mark the 10th anniversary of the program.
Due to the significance of Koivu's story, this jersey is one of our favorites in the Third String Goalie collection.
Plenty of great videos today, beginning with an interview with Koivu and Dr. Mulder about his cancer.
Next, Dr. Mulder of the Canadiens accepts the King Clancy Trophy on Koivu's behalf.
Our next video is a feature on John Cullen, Mario Lemieux, Phil Kessel and Koivu, all NHL players who have dealt with cancer during their playing careers.
We conclude today with the extended ovation Koivu received on his return to the ice in Montreal on this day in 2002.