The last time Mikko Koivu played at Xcel Energy Center in front of fans was March 2, 2020, against Nashville.
That season was shut down less than two weeks later because of the COVID-19 pandemic and when it resumed, the Wild competed out of a playoff bubble in Edmonton before getting eliminated.
After the team and Koivu split up in the offseason, Koivu went on to sign with Columbus and then retired from the NHL following a seven-game stint.
But, almost exactly two years since his final game in St. Paul, the longtime former captain will be back in front of the local crowd to become the first player in Wild history to have his jersey retired by the team, his No. 9 getting honored on March 13 — also vs. the Predators.
"It's one more chance to say thank you to the fans and also to the people that helped me a lot throughout my career here in Minnesota," Koivu said Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center before the Wild played host to Arizona.
The Wild announced it would retire Koivu's jersey on Monday, but Koivu learned of the decision back in the summer while having lunch with owner Craig Leipold.
He was emotional after hearing the news and when the plan went public, he reflected on the years he spent with the team and the people who accompanied him on that journey.
"It means a lot," Koivu said of the recognition. "I'm proud of it. I'm proud to be part of the Wild. Always have been."
Drafted sixth overall by the Wild in 2001, Koivu played 15 of his 16 NHL seasons for the team and the center is the franchise leader in games (1,028), assists (504) and points (709) among various other categories.
He was coached by Jacques Lemaire for his first four seasons with the Wild (2005-06 to 2008-09), and that's who Koivu identified as having the most significant impact on him as a player.
"Throughout the years, I would keep in contact with him," said Koivu, 38. "Usually when I was struggling, I would call him. So he probably knew when the phone rang and I was calling, he knew, 'OK. It's not going that well.'"
One of the faces of the franchise during his Wild career, especially after being named the first full-time captain in 2009, Koivu's role diminished toward the end of his tenure and General Manager Bill Guerin didn't re-sign Koivu after the 2019-20 season. Koivu said he understood the team making a change.
"It was very hard at the time," Koivu said. "It was obviously emotional. The team, the organization, really means a lot to me. So yeah, it was [hard]. Once you get a couple of weeks, a couple months, and then I had a chance to talk with Billy after and things like that, then you start to realize why they have to make those tough decisions."
Now Koivu is back around the team.
Guerin and Leipold gave Koivu the chance to learn about the management and coaching sides of hockey, and Koivu said he and the team will discuss what that could look like for him.
Although he's happy he retired, Koivu said he misses the locker room and the routine of being a hockey player and he wants to stay involved in the game.
"That was something that I really did enjoy, the preparation, the ups and downs, things like that," said Koivu, who will be part of the coaching staff for Finland at the World Junior Championship. "But when I made my decision, I wanted to be sure and I don't think I could be at the level that I could play and enjoy the game like I did. I'm OK with that."
What he accomplished in his playing days, however, won't be forgotten — not when his No. 9 will hang over the Xcel Energy Center ice.
"It'll be a special night," Koivu said.
Forward Frederick Gaudreau didn't play against the Coyotes because of the NHL's COVID protocols.
Since the Wild didn't have any other forwards available on its active roster, defenseman Calen Addison was ushered into action and lined up at wing.
Gaudreau is the third Wild player to enter the COVID protocols this season; the Wild was also without forwards Mats Zuccarello and Rem Pitlick for four games in October and November after both tested positive for COVID-19.
Captain Jared Spurgeon (lower-body injury) and Zuccarello (hand) skated Tuesday morning, but neither played vs. Arizona.
"They're both progressing," coach Dean Evason said. "As far as a timeline, we don't have one."