EDMONTON, Alberta – Wild captain Mikko Koivu is striving to not look at the playoffs as what could be his final chance at a Stanley Cup.
He’s simply focused on savoring the moment, just like he said he would when he and the team reconvened to prepare to face the Canucks in the qualifiers, and that remains his outlook even though the uncertainty about his future looms.
“Just trying not to think about it, what’s after and how it’s going to be, what’s going to happen,” Koivu said recently on a video chat. “Really trying to enjoy the ride and [I] already have.”
At 37 years old and in the final stages of his two-year, $11 million contract, Koivu has put off deciding what’s next for him.
It’s a situation that could make these playoffs feel peculiar for the veteran, but every quest for the Cup is unique in Koivu’s eyes. Competing inside a bubble from a hub city has only magnified that, but he’s expecting the action to have the vibe it always has.
“Once you start playing, I think the playoffs will probably be the same as it always is,” Koivu said. “We’ve all just kind of been waiting for a while now, and I’m first getting used to the life in the bubble and getting the first game, kind of see how that feels and things like that. So, I think it’s more obviously a different setup than the regular playoffs. But I think once the puck drops, you’re into the game and then doing the things as we used to.”
Vancouver is the home team for the start of the series, getting the last change through Game 2, and that could keep Wild coach Dean Evason on his toes when it comes to matching lines.
Evason said the Wild isn’t a “hard-matching hockey club” but when it comes to wanting specific players out against the opposition, it’s more important to him to have the right defensemen on the ice than forwards.
“Clearly, they’ve got some special people that we’ll try to maneuver around and get certain people against,” Evason said. “So, I think that’s the game within the game. That’s the fun part for coaches to try to get those matchups.”
Official for officials
Bubble hockey in a hub city isn’t just new for players.
It’s also a first for NHL officials.
“Normally they don’t get together in the playoffs other than with the people they work with, so it’s a bit of a luxury that we have 20 officials in each hub from a team perspective,” said NHL Senior VP and director of officiating Stephen Walkom. “That’s a little different for them.”
Before the tournament began, referees participated in a minicamp on the ice and in the classroom ahead of working exhibition games. Like players, officials are tested daily.
Although the NHL explored electronic whistles for the league’s return to play, referees didn’t want to use them. “It hasn’t been tested enough for us,” Walkom said.
What the officials have tried out is a Fox 40 Pealess Whistle, and Walkom said during the lead-up to the games that the NHL was moving toward that model.
“We believe [it] has the right trill for the players,” he said, “and as well it takes a lot less force to use.”
The Fox Sports North broadcast booth for the series is set up on the concourse level of Xcel Energy Center, with Anthony LaPanta, Ryan Carter and Wes Walz calling the action off a live feed on the scoreboard and other small monitors.
Pre- and postgame shows are hosted from the Wild’s locker room at Xcel Energy Center.