Koivu intends to applaud Montreal fans

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:24 PM ET

MONTREAL -- Saku Koivu said there will be a standing ovation Saturday night at the Bell Centre.

He'll be the one giving it.

"I don't know what to expect from (Saturday's) game, to be honest," said the former captain of the Montreal Canadiens, who returns for the first time in two seasons, now with the Anaheim Ducks.

"The way (the fans) treated me and the support that I got, I feel that I should be the one standing at the red line and applauding for them and give a standing ovation to the fans.

"They've surprised me often over the years. Getting a positive, loving reaction would feel good and that would not surprise me because that has happened before."

It is but a one-hour flight to Montreal from Toronto, but 13 years whirred before Koivu's eyes Friday.

"On the way here on the plane from Toronto, I kind of went through all these great moments," said Koivu, who parted ways with the Habs in the summer of 2009 and hasn't been back since. "My first game, the old Forum, moving here, becoming captain, the playoff series, just the atmosphere at the Bell Centre on a Saturday night, all these things, and I felt like I had been really lucky. I felt privileged to have played here and been the captain for nine years. Those are things that really make me proud.

"But it's going to be different (Saturday)."

Koivu was the face of the Canadiens franchise through some lean years, but he won over the fans who stood by the team with his effort and class and the way he battled cancer which caused him to miss all but three games in the 2001-02 season.

The ovation he received the night of his return from that battle is one of the special moments in Canadiens history.

It forged a special relationship between fans and an athlete.

"It was a lot more than just hockey. The cancer created a bond that was really big and very special between me and the city of Montreal and the people here. That doesn't happen very often. What they gave us here and the way they made us feel, we'll never forget that."

Koivu's return has generated discussion about where he fits into the Canadiens' rich tapestry of legends. One of the topics is whether his number deserves to be retired.

"I feel that I don't belong there," Koivu said. "It's overwhelming just to hear people saying that, but when you look at the legends who played and the jerseys that are up in the roof there, the things that they have done for this team, I can't consider myself being in the same class, but it feels good (to hear people suggest he is)."

Koivu and the Canadiens parted ways in a huge housecleaning in the summer of 2009 when the roster was turned over by almost a dozen players. Koivu learned the Habs would not offer him a contract from then-GM Bob Gainey at the end of June 2009.

Koivu said the feeling was mutual that a change was needed.

"There was no bitterness about it," he said. "I thought they did it first class. Sometimes in pro sports and any business you need new beginnings and new challenges and it was time for both for the team and myself. It was time to go in a new direction."

A reflective Koivu said he wished the team could have had more success while he was here.

"My only regret is not having more success in the playoffs, not winning the Cup," Koivu said. "I felt what it's like to be here and win a playoff series, how excited people get and how passionate they are about it. There were two or three years where I thought we had a team to go all the way, but we faced some injuries and you never know, sometimes things happen in the playoffs."

Maybe he couldn't create memories in the post-season, but Koivu was at the centre of some memorable moments with the Habs. Another is on the way.

"It will be another night," Koivu said, "that I won't forget for the rest of my life."

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