Wednesday, April 9, 2014

2002-03 Montreal Canadiens Saku Koivu Jersey

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.

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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 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.

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Koivu acknowledging the fans ovation

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 after upsetting the rival Bruins in six games.

Following the 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.

Koivu proved the disease was behind him when he participated in all 82 of the Canadiens games the next season, setting 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 primarily thanks to his efforts to raise funds to purchase a scanner to detect cancer in Montreal, as he had to travel two hours for the nearest one at the time of his diagnosis since no hospital in Montreal had one at the time. Koivu's foundation eventually donated $2.5 million for the so others in Montreal could receive the same level of care he got without having to drive two hours.

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Koivu poses with the new scanner

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.

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Today's video section features the story of Koivu's return to the ice and highlights of the Canadiens game that night followed by his postgame press conference.

Here is the full extended ovation Koivu received on his return to the ice in Montreal on this day in 2002.

Finally, a more recent feature on Koivu's return, including Dr. Mulder and how Koivu helped financed a new scanner for the Montreal hospital so others could receive the same level of care he got without having to travel to the nearest machine, which was two hours away at the time, as no Montreal had that kind of scanner at the time.

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