Mikko Koivu hangs ‘em up
by Andrew Podnieks|10 FEB 2021
Captaining Finland to the 2011 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship title was Mikko Koivu’s career highlight.
photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images
Just a few weeks shy of his 38th birthday, Mikko Koivu has announced his retirement from hockey, leaving the ice as one of the most decorated Finnish players in IIHF history and a member of the NHL’s 1,000-game club. 

He had played only seven games with the Columbus Blue Jackets this season but felt he wasn’t contributing to the level he had been accustomed. 

“This was not an easy decision for me, as I have loved every minute of my short time in Columbus and really hoped to be able to help this team accomplish its goals this season. But the bottom line is, I haven’t been able to get to the level of play that I need to be true to myself and fair to my teammates, so the time is right for me to retire from hockey,” Koivu said on Tuesday afternoon during his announcement.

Koivu is one of just eight players in international hockey history to have won medals in all categories of international men’s ice hockey – U18 Worlds, World Juniors, World Championships, and Olympics. (The others are Ryan Getzlaf, Mikhail Grigorenko, Patrick Kane, Sergei Shirokov, Vyacheslav Voinov, and compatriots Jussi Jokinen and Lasse Kukkonen.)

In Koivu’s case, his trophy shelf consists of a gold and bronze from the U18, a silver and bronze from the World Juniors, a gold, two silver, and two bronze from the senior World Championships, and a silver and bronze from the Olympics. Additionally, he helped Finland to the finals of the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and also represented Suomi at the 2016 event, the only Finn to play in both World Cups of the 21st century.

Incredibly, in 12 IIHF events, Koivu failed to earn a medal only once, at the 2012 Worlds when Finland lost the bronze-medal game, 3-2, to the Czech Republic on home ice in Helsinki.
Mikko Koivu hangs up his skates and ends one of the most successful careers by a Finnish player in international ice hockey.
photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images
In the NHL, Koivu was drafted 6th overall by the Minnesota Wild in 2001, and he played all but 7 of his 1,035 games with the Wild during his 16 seasons in the league. He was captain for 11 of those 16 seasons, but he signed as a free agent with the Blue Jackets prior to the start of the current 2020/21 season, largely because the Team’s GM was Jarmo Kekalainen, a fellow Finn and long-time personal friend.

"Mikko Koivu is a consummate pro, and while we are disappointed that his time as a Blue Jacket was short, we understand and respect the decision he has made because it is the result of the deep respect he has for the game, our organization and his teammates," Kekalainen said.

The highlight of Koivu’s career was surely the 2011 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Slovakia. Koivu was named team captain and led the Finns to the gold medal, a win made all the sweeter by beating archrival Sweden, 6-1, in the ultimate game. 

The other gold in Koivu’s career came when he was only 16, playing on the winning team at the U18 Worlds which defeated Russia, 3-1, in the final game. 

In the NHL, he was a solid two-way player who could contribute at both ends of the ice. Three times he scored 20 goals in a season, and he was usually a plus player in the +/- statistics. In all, he scored 206 goals, including 33 winners, but his one disappointment was a lack of playoff success. Only twice in his career did the Wild advance as far as the second round. 

Mikko was a big man, just the opposite of his older brother (by nine years), Saku. Both were leaders, and Mikko became the face of the Wild in the NHL and Suomi internationally. He served as captain at the 2002 World Juniors, the 2011, 2012, and 2016 World Championships, and the 2016 World Cup. 

But the start to the current season didn’t go well. He was on the NHL’s Covid-19 list for the first ten days of the season, and then never found his footing with the new team.

"Just every game I had to push to get ready, and then I just couldn't get into the rhythm," Koivu explained. "I just didn't feel the way I wanted to feel as a hockey player and also be able to enjoy the game. It's been on my mind for a while now."