Koivu's career full of good memories

Saku Koivu wore the 'A' in Anaheim and had a historic run with the 'C' on his Montreal jersey. Francois Lacasse/NHLI/Getty Images

I recall walking into the visitors locker room at Dodger Stadium in January after the Anaheim Ducks had defeated the host Los Angeles Kings 3-0 in the first of the NHL's Stadium Series of outdoor games.

The Ducks were in a buoyant mood after the win, their second over the Kings that week, but no player was more aglow than veteran forward Saku Koivu.

Koivu had played in the NHL's first outdoor game -- as a Montreal Canadien at the 2003 Heritage Classic in Edmonton -- and more than a decade later, here he was finishing a game played at an iconic baseball stadium in his adopted home hockey state.

As he packed up his gear, still drenched in sweat from the warm California evening, Koivu described the event in glowing terms. That moment came to mind Wednesday morning when Koivu announced his long NHL journey had come to an end after 1,124 games.

He was captain of the Montreal Canadiens for 10 years -- the first European so honored by the team and tied with Hall of Famer Jean Beliveau as the longest-tenured captains in the team's storied history -- before he signed with the Ducks in 2009.

Of course, Koivu's career will be remembered as much for his courageous battle against cancer in the early 2000s as for his hardworking style of play.

Koivu missed almost all of the 2001-02 season after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but he made an emotional return near the end of the regular season and helped the Canadiens into the playoffs.

So grateful was Koivu for the support he received during his treatment and recovery that he established a foundation in Montreal that raised $8 million for a badly needed positron emission tomography (PET) scanner for Montreal General Hospital.

"My time in Montreal was special beyond playing hockey," Koivu said in a statement released Wednesday. "Thank you to the fans and lovely people of Montreal for your support and love and for providing my family and me with wonderful memories that we will always cherish, as well as the immense support during my illness."

Koivu had been thinking about retirement for a while.

"Looking back, my retirement process started a year ago in the summer," Koivu said Wednesday. "It used to be easy to get up and go for a run and get back in shape, skate in August and prepare for camp. But it was the first time in my career where it was like, 'Man, it's not as easy anymore.' Then, when we started the season, I found myself asking the questions a little too often: 'Why am I here? Is this still worth it? What's the purpose of still playing?' You have your family and kids, you miss their activities ... obviously, you push those thoughts away in the middle of the season and focus on the games, but that's how I felt that I was coming toward the end of my career."

Koivu -- a four-time Olympian -- said another contributing factor was the concussion he suffered early the past season, which caused him to miss a chunk of time. Finally, when the Ducks were eliminated by the Kings in Game 7 in the spring, Koivu remembers hugging his pal Teemu Selanne, who had made it clear it would be his last season.

"I said to him, 'I feel so privileged that I played with you,' and he said, 'I feel the same, but your last season is ahead of you,'" Koivu recalled. "I said, 'Teemu, I really feel like this might be it for both of us.' And that feeling just grew stronger and stronger throughout the summer."

The Ducks' decision not to tender Koivu a contract offer after the season also led to his decision to retire, but he didn't have any interest in moving his family to play for another team. Looking back on his career, Koivu takes pride in having played so long, given how his career and life were threatened by cancer.

"My first four to five years in the league, I had some unfortunate injuries with the shoulder and knees, and then at 27, 28 years old going through the cancer and missing almost a complete year ... to have played in 1,100-plus games and playing some 10-plus years after all that, it really feels amazing," Koivu said. "I feel so fortunate about it. Had somebody told me that back then, I would have said, 'Absolutely no way that's possible.' When I first told the doctor after my chemo that I wanted to come back and play that year, he said, 'You're insane. Maybe you're never going to play because we don't know how the treatments and everything will have an effect on you.' Being here in 2014, it's pretty amazing."

Koivu will use this season to simply spend more time with family but says coaching pro hockey one day is a possibility. He and his wife also have to decide whether they'll raise their kids in California or Finland.

"I've always been fascinated about coaching," Koivu said. "But that's too quick right now. Right now, it's about spending time with the kids and family. I'll be an assistant coach for my son, who is 8 years old. But I'm pretty sure hockey is going to play some kind of role in my life later on."