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Montreal prepares to welcome back former captain Saku Koivu

Jan 20, 2011, 8:16 PM EST

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What happens when a much beloved team leader and former captain returns to the city he once called home for 13 seasons? In the case of Saku Koivu, we’re about to find out. Koivu’s current team, Anaheim, is making a trip through the East Coast and after duking it out with Toronto on Thursday night, the stage is set for Saku Koivu to make his first appearance in Montreal on Saturday night since leaving via free agency in the summer of 2009.

As for how Koivu’s adapting to life in Southern California, he tells Eric Duhatschek of the Globe & Mail that life is pretty good now but he still keeps an eye on his former team and teammates from afar.

“We see a lot of their games here before our games because of the time difference,” explained Koivu. “I still have friends that I talk to in Montreal, but Montreal’s team is so different in a very short time, that there are only two or three guys that I know, plus the training staff. that’s about it. But I still follow them and (Craig) Rivet plays in Buffalo so I talk to him quite a bit about what’s going on in the Eastern Conference.”

With all the time Rivet has had off you’d figure these two do a lot of talking.

Koivu leaving town was a point of contention for fans in Montreal. After all, Koivu spent his entire career to that point in Quebec as a member of the Habs, continuing as captain for 10 years from 1999 until he was not retained by former GM Bob Gainey. Making things awkward in Montreal was the Habs acquiring Scott Gomez from New York as a means to help fill the center spot vacated by Koivu’s departure. Gomez has struggled a bit to adapt to life in Montreal and while his stats might not be the same as what Koivu put up in his time there, they do share a common bond. They both wore #11 in a Habs sweater.

Koivu’s departure hit home with the Habs so hard that the team didn’t issue the number last season as a means to let time heal all wounds. Before the start of this season, Gomez switched from 91 to 11, something that upset many of the faithful in Montreal. If you’re thinking that the fans will rally behind Gomez on Saturday night over Koivu… Think again.

Some fans in Montreal are trying to rally support to get Koivu voted the #1 star of the game no matter what. Since fans in Montreal have the power to do such things, the possibility is sky high that it could happen. It’s so rare these days to see fans continue their love affair with a player after they’ve left town but in the case of Saku Koivu it’s remarkable to see such an outpouring of emotion. While there was contention when Mike Modano played his first game in Dallas this year, there’s virtually no ill-will in the air for Koivu. For as contentious as Habs fans can be, this is truly wonderful to see.

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