Friday, June 20, 2014
Why not Saku?
The overdue decision to re-retire Canadiens jersey number 5 in honour of Guy Lapointe pretty much rights all the perceived wrongs regarding whose names and numbers were missing from the rafters at the Bell Center. The next number that I strongly believe should go up has taken me into the most puzzlingly bitter arguments I've ever had with fellow Canadiens fans and observers.
When you mention Saku Koivu and number 11 as worthy of the honour, there's a backlash that's entirely out of proportion to what's being discussed. The objections are two-fold, and we'll take them one at a time: 1. Unlike the pantheon of legends already honoured, Koivu was a marginally above average player who never won a Stanley Cup. True enough, but he was also the Canadiens' second longest-serving captain after Jean Beliveau, and his inspirational comeback from cancer and the community service it spawned are unrivalled chapters in franchise history. 2. Why retire a guy's number just because he got sick? It's not about the cancer - it's about how Koivu handled it. The courage and humility that he displayed in his battle against life-threatening illness transcended hockey. The only scenario that ever came close to matching Koivu's two most emotionally-charged Bell Center appearances - once when he was still in recovery and again when he returned to the lineup - was the momentous ovation for Rocket Richard on closing night at the Forum.
On their own, neither his playing career nor his battle with cancer represents sufficient reason to retire Koivu's number, but taken together, they tell the story of a loyal and long-serving soldier who represented the Canadiens with unsurpassed honour and dignity in the franchise's leanest years and his own darkest hour. The case for retiring Saku Koivu's jersey is a compelling argument that merits serious consideration more than it deserves smug dismissal from self-appointed guardians of the CH legacy.