So much of hockey is dissected then categorized, with running tallies kept for nearly every atom of the action — from shots, goals and points to blocks, faceoff wins and hits.
Wild captain Mikko Koivu has already been singled out for his proficiency in many of those areas, sitting atop a host of the leaderboards in the team’s archives.
But the recognition Koivu is set to receive Sunday afternoon against the Stars at Xcel Energy Center might be the most fitting one that’s been bestowed on him to date.
The reliability and resilience required to achieve a longevity milestone like 1,000 regular-season NHL games are attributes that have come to define Koivu’s career with the Wild.
“During the season, you’re so into it,” Koivu said. “You just worry about the next one. That’s the job that we gotta do. I think that’s the challenge in this league. That’s why it’s so hard. That’s why it’s so hard to stay in it.”
Koivu will become the 55th player in NHL history to play his first 1,000 games with the same team, the 342nd player overall to reach the plateau and just the seventh to accomplish the feat in a Wild sweater.
His wife, Helena, and their three children, Sofie, Kasper and Oskar, will be in attendance Sunday, along with Koiuv’s parents and brother Saku after flying in from Finland.
Before retiring, Saku — a former captain of the Montreal Canadiens — logged 1,124 regular-season games. He and Mikko will become the sixth set of brothers in NHL history to each skate in 1,000 games, per NHL Stats.
These are elite distinctions, but playing that many times wasn’t what Koivu aimed for when he started.
It wasn’t until 2018-19, when the number was attainable, that Koivu began to realize what was lingering ahead — a pursuit that, ultimately, was put on hold at No. 973 after Koivu suffered a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee.
His bid, however, didn’t snag this season, with Koivu appearing in every game (chipping in two goals and nine assists) thus far after working his way back to full strength — again demonstrating the consistency that’s been a hallmark of his play.
“You have to work,” said Wild color analyst Wes Walz, who played with Koivu from 2005-08. “You have to watch your diet. You have to be disciplined so your body can heal, and he was willing and was always willing to make those type of sacrifices to be the type of player that he was and is.”
A native of Turku, Finland drafted sixth overall by the Wild in 2001 who debuted Nov. 5, 2005, Koivu has become synonymous with the Wild and vice versa.
At 36 years old, he’s the franchise leader in multiple rankings, including games played, assists (496), points (699), plus-minus (plus-70), shots (2,241) and faceoff wins (10,159). Koivu’s also the fourth-longest-tenured captain in the league; he was named to the position on Oct. 20, 2009.
“I played with Mikko and I played against him, and he makes you fight for every inch,” said former Wild player, assistant coach and executive Andrew Brunette. “… That’s kind of been the identity of the Wild, that they’re kind of relentless. They’re going to not give you much. You’re going to have to earn it, and it’s going to be hard and you better be willing to pay a price. And that’s Mikko.”
While his journey has been made memorable by the people Koivu has shared it with, the one he credits for teaching him how to compete in the NHL on a night-in, night-out basis is former Wild bench boss Jacques Lemaire. And that persistence continues to manifest itself in Koivu’s defensive awareness, a responsibility that’s become the center’s calling card.
“Below the hash marks to the net defensively, there are not many players that I’ve ever seen that are as good as Mikko Koivu with his stickwork, his determination and his hockey sense,” Walz said.
In the final leg of a two-year, $11 million contract, Koivu has thought about what his future might look like beyond this season while also recognizing much is out of his control. He and the Wild haven’t talked about his status, Koivu said.
“I’m trying to enjoy it now,” he said, “play the game and having fun with it.”
That’s what this game still is to Koivu, a source of enjoyment even amid the ups and downs. Experiencing it all with the Wild makes the process, and the honor that’s looming, that much more significant.
“I always took and I take pride [in the team], the way we play, the way we do things around here,” Koivu said. “So, it means a lot.”