ST. PAUL, Minn. — The disappointment was apparent on Mikko Koivu’s face.
Koivu, the Minnesota Wild captain and presumptive captain for Team Finland, announced Friday he won’t play in the Olympics this month in Sochi, Russia. Koivu, who has missed the past 15 games for Minnesota, decided his surgically-repaired ankle hasn’t healed enough to allow him to play in his third Olympics.
"I just don’t feel healthy enough to feel that I can play at the level that I want," Koivu said. "I really think it’s not fair for my teammates with Minnesota, with Team Finland, the management in Team Finland and most important it’s not fair for myself either.
"It’s been going on the last two weeks, but for sure the last week, just back and forth the emotions have been up and down. Had a good day, then following day it would be worse. Just the level that I’ve been skating by myself, I haven’t practicing with my team that’s here, I just don’t think it’s fair to anyone to play for Team Finland."
Koivu fractured his right ankle Jan. 4 while blocking a dump-in chance against the Washington Capitals. He had surgery on Jan. 6, hoping to speed up the recovery timeline, but he couldn’t get back in time to play for Minnesota before the break or in the Olympics.
Skating on his own at different times the past few weeks, Koivu was hopeful he would be able to play in the Olympics. But he was frustrated after having periods of good days followed by more pain.
"It’s frustrating, just going back and forth, getting a good day and getting excited," Koivu said. "I knew that would happen with bones healing that you’re going to have a good day and it’s going to get the pressure and the next day it might be worse. But even knowing that and going forward with it, it’s frustrating.
"It’s a different kind of pain, too, then for example if you hurt your knee. It’s kind of a little stiff and wears off and gets better the longer you skate. With this one, it’s the opposite. It’s good for 10, 15 minutes and then the pain just starts building up and the kind of pain you don’t enjoy skating and not even talking about playing the game the way I want to play the game."
Despite playing just 44 games, Koivu is third on the Wild in scoring with 35 points. The first-line center has eight goals and a team high-tying 27 assists.
Koivu said he will take some time off for skating now to allow the ankle to heal more. Koivu said doctors have told him the ankle is healing properly. Doctors told him "it’s the worst timing ever" for the injury in trying to play in the Olympics. A week earlier and Koivu would have been ready, he believes. A week later, and it wouldn’t have been a question to sit out.
Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said the decision would be whether Koivu was medically cleared to play and then whether Koivu felt comfortable to play. Yeo said he didn’t mind Koivu playing in the Olympics even if he was unable to return before the Wild’s last game before the break on Thursday night, believing that playing in the Olympics could get Koivu’s timing back before returning with Minnesota.
Koivu felt responsibility with the Wild to make sure he was ready to return on Feb. 27 when the team resumes play after the break.
"To be honest, I thought about it in both ways," Koivu said. "I thought if I would be healthy and I could go and play, that would help me to come and play here. But at the same time, I want to make sure that I’m 100 percent healthy and be ready to go as good as I can be when the puck drops here after the Olympics. Those were the things. There’s lots of things that you have to go through before you make the call, but that was definitely one of them."
With taking the time off and skipping the Olympics, Koivu hopes he’s ready to return when the Wild are back at practice on Feb. 19.
"That’s definitely the goal," Koivu said. "But I don’t want to say anything right now. I thought I would be going to Sochi right now if you asked me that three weeks ago. Now I’m just going to go day by day and make the plan with the doctors and the trainers and then keep working on it and try to get better and stronger each and every day."
Koivu is a two-time Olympian for Finland and has won a silver medal in the 2006 Games and a bronze in 2010 in Vancouver. In 14 Olympic games, he’s had four assists. Koivu was the likely captain for Team Finland and was set to take the title from his brother, Saku, who is not playing in the Olympics.
Mikko Koivu was captain for Finland in the 2011 and 2012 World Championships. Koivu helped lead Finland to the gold medal in the 2011 championships and was the team’s highest scorer with three goals and eight assists in 2012.
"It’s hard," Koivu said. "Obviously we’ve been having lots of success in the past and the feeling to represent your country especially in the Olympic Games it’s something as an athlete that doesn’t happen very often and who knows if it’s going to happen again with the NHL and all that?
"But I just think clearly and I just think it’s not fair to anyone me going to play for Team Finland right now even if I wanted to go there bad and play for my country there. But I’ve just got to move on and get better over here."
Wild center Mikael Granlund will be playing for Finland in the Olympics. Minnesota will also be represented by Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on Team USA and Nino Niederreiter for Switzerland.