January 20, 2011
Saku Koivu(notes) was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1993; became the 27th captain in team history in 1999; battled, and defeated, Burkitt's lymphoma in a memorable 2002 comeback that earned him the Masterton Trophy; and he scored 641 points while playing with the Habs from 1995-2009.
He returns to Montreal as an opponent for the first time on Saturday night, now a member of the Anaheim Ducks; and the anticipation is already building for that homecoming.
Habs fan Stu Reider knows there will be cheers from the sellout crown in Bell Centre. He expects there to be a video montage of some sort. But for the Canadiens player he considers a franchise legend, Reider wanted to go one step beyond the normal tributes given to former stars:
Since Montreal allows fans to choose the Three Stars for each game via an Internet vote, why not organize a movement to ensure Koivu will be the No. 1 star on Saturday night, win or lose?
"You always see the captain or the legend skating to center ice and the fans applauding him [before leaving for another team]," he said. "Saku never had that chance with us. So I figured, let me give it a shot. If it works, it works. If not, then at least I tried."
Reider was watching a game in his brother's apartment last weekend when someone mentioned they were voting for that night's Three Stars for the Canadiens. Inspiration struck him: What a perfect way to honor Koivu a week later.
As with most fan movements, the first step was Facebook and a "Vote Saku Koivu 1st Star" page. Stu Reider, his brother Mikey and friend Aaron Blauer created the page, which read:
With his return on Saturday lets make sure Saku gets the reception he deserves and ends up at center ice when the game is over!
As a Hab for 13 years, Saku put everything on the line every night and gave back to the community as often as he could. He is the longest serving captain in the Canadiens history. On Saturday when he returns to Montreal for the first time since signing in Anaheim not only should he be cheered and welcomed but as fans we should vote him as the 1st star of the game.
The page points to the Canadiens Three Stars voting page, where fans can register and cast one vote for the top three players in the Ducks/Habs game on Saturday.
The fans have honored former Habs before upon their return this season. Francis Bouillon(notes), for example, was given a loud ovation when he was the No. 3 star in the Nashville Predators vs. Canadiens game last October; but he had two assists in a 3-0 game, somewhat earning the honor.
"There is a rules page where they say it's limited to one vote per person, and they reserve the right to overrule," said Reider.
Ah, yes, the fine print. From the rules on the Canadiens' fan voting page:
The Club de hockey Canadien, Inc. reserves the right to disallow votes if it has reasonable grounds to suspect that fraudulent bulk votes have been cast (i.e. more votes than a human being could possibly submit in the time available without the use of software or other devices designed to make automated votes).
Le Club de hockey Canadien, Inc. reserves the right to award the first star of the game to a player scoring the game-winning goal with less than minute to play in regulation time, in overtime or in a shootout.
The Club de hockey Canadien, Inc. may amend, suspend, withdraw, cancel or re-set the vote for any reason at its sole discretion at any time.
Flooding the ballot box, or attempting to get Koivu the honor if he, say, goes scoreless while three other players have a big night may prove problematic.
The hope, according to Reider, is to drum up enough public sentiment that if the votes are there and they're legal, the Canadiens will allow Koivu his moment no matter what happens in the game.
It's personal for Reider and other fans in their mid-20s. He said he never saw Jean Beliveau or Rocket Richard play, but that Koivu was "the player that sticks out as the legend of my time."
So he felt the time was right to have the fans offer an unique tribute. "As fans, we deserve to thank him. I know he's going to get cheered. They may do a video a montage. But to have him, by himself, in front of 22,000 fans ... that's all you want to see."