The air went out of the building for a split second as Team Captain Saku Koivu revealed to reporters yesterday at the Bell Centre following team training-camp physicals, that he suffered a foot injury a couple of weeks ago while skating and training at home in Finland.

“I was skating in Finland, during the practice, a defenceman took a shot and a guy who was in front of me just tipped it and it hit the side of my foot. It was just a simple foot injury, nothing more than that.”

Koivu said the injury kept him off skates for two weeks, but he’s been back on the ice for the last three or four days and feels fine.

Koivu and the rest of his teammates, 52-men strong for the start of training camp, take to the ice this morning in Pierrefonds. They’re back on the ice again tomorrow before they make their way to Boston for their first pre-season game, against the Bruins.

Koivu is going into his 13th season with the Canadiens. The Captain has seen some good times and some lean times.

“I’ve seen some ups in the mid-90s when we had a good team, and then the late 90s, when it wasn’t alot of fun,” admitted the Captain. “The reason why I stayed (in Montreal) was because I saw the potential and the fun that is possible here. And I want to be here if this team wins the Stanley Cup in the next couple of years. I’m excited because of where we are.”

Although Koivu stands to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, he doesn’t even want to think about a contract now.

“Hopefully we can have the focus on hockey. When there is the time for negotiations during the year it’s up to the team, and then after that, it’s obviously up to two sides to negotiate. ”

Koivu is coming off a campaign which saw him score 16 goals and add 40 assists for 56 points: a significant drop in production from the previous season, when he piled up a career-high 75 points. It has been too easy for some in this city to dump on number 11 for the team’s failure to make a significant impact in the playoffs, during his reign as Team Captain. But no one on this club has had the ability to pick this bunch up by the scruff of its neck and carry it, forward, like The Captain. No one plays with more grit and determination than The Captain. No one works harder, game in and game out, than The Captain.

So goes Koivu, so go the Canadiens. You need look no further than last season, when Koivu suffered a broken bone in his left foot at the tail end of the regular season, and was unable to answer the bell for the start of the playoffs. The Canadiens were not the same team without him. It was only upon Koivu’s return late in the Boston series that some of the sceptics began to fully appreciate his importance to this team.

The knock against Koivu continued when The Captain failed to show up in Montreal for the team’s annual golf tournament earlier this month.

“I spoke to Bob Gainey before about it. It was just about the timing. Back in Finland I had my team I was able to skate with every day. We felt the best thing for me, and most of the Europeans, was stay there and keep up the routine.”

Koivu believes this team looks better than it did at this time, last year. And he’s right. With Robert Lang, Alex Tanguay and Georges Laraque significant off-season acquisitions, there is a quality to the depth on this team that the Canadiens haven’t enjoyed in years.

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