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03-19-2004, 02:49 PM
Join Date: Oct 2003
Country: Canada
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jack todd says fights good for the habs

The Gazette

Friday, March 19, 2004

"That makes three practice fights this year," someone pointed out after yesterday's altercation between Josť Theodore and best friend Mike Ribeiro, who had just used Theodore's pricey throat for target practice. "The last time the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup, they had four."

There you are. For those who start reading crow entrails in an attempt to divine their team's playoff prospects, it's an Official Omen, right up there with years that end in the number "6" or the way Ribeiro's hair points in the morning.

Theodore was laughing after it was over, although he was not laughing at practice, when Ribeiro's shot struck him on the collarbone and glanced off his neck, leaving ugly welts. The one on the collarbone looked worse, but Theodore said the pain he was feeling came from the one on his neck - and he promised that his pain-in-the-neck buddy was going to be buying him dinner.

In the end, although Theodore started to tear off his mask and go after Ribeiro, the Theo-Mickey Ribs thing ranks only as a near-altercation - although it might qualify as a fight for the purposes of divining Stanley Cup potential in this team. The day Craig Rivet jumped Pierre Dagenais after Dagenais's slapper broke his foot was a bona-fide fight, as (by all accounts) was Koivu-Ribeiro, though no one is comparing that one to Darren Langdon-Tie Domi.

The fight that has received by far the most attention, of course, pitted Ribeiro against the team captain and became the focal point for those who insist the good ship Canadien is a boat divided and that as captains go, Koivu wouldn't even make a good first mate.

That most of this silliness comes from people who have developed an allergy to the Bell Centre doesn't matter - it's out there and inevitably a few lobotomized knuckleheads are going to buy it and use it as an excuse to boo the diminutive Finn who has given so much to this city.

Koivu said that he thought it wasn't so much a matter of the booing or his fight with Ribeiro turning things around as it was players simply realizing they had to turn up the intensity down the stretch.

As for his personal reaction to the booing, Koivu said, it does hurt. "You're not happy about it and you're not pleased what happened. That's obvious. You'd rather hear the cheering and your name, people being positive about it and not negative. But when that incident happened, Mike, myself and everybody on the team, we knew we didn't do anything wrong.

"I didn't feel bad about it because I know that stuff goes on everywhere and it was an intense practice. I was just surprised by how big a thing it became and the attention that it got. But luckily enough it didn't go on and on and obviously, it makes it better when things are going well."

Whatever the cause, the Canadiens have lost only twice in regulation in the past 14 games going into this weekend's pivotal home-and-home series with the New Jersey Devils and Koivu has been a wonder throughout. Going head-to-head in the last two games against Toronto's Mats Sundin and Colorado's Joe Sakic, Koivu outplayed both superstars and probably provided his team's margin of victory in two huge wins.

Against the Avalanche Tuesday night he was a whirling dervish, popping up all over the ice, dishing out hits, battling in front of the net, skating end to end like the Energizer bunny. His rebound goal scored from his knees after being knocked down from behind was pure effort, precisely the sort of thing a playoff team needs from its captain.

To those who have watched his career closely since Koivu arrived here, it's no surprise that this is how he responds to unjust criticism and bone-headed boo-birds. A guy who can be stricken with stomach cancer on the eve of training camp and come back to lead his team in the playoffs is one tough cookie.

After injuring a knee in training camp and missing the first 13 games of the regular season, Koivu was not himself when he returned. He didn't complain, didn't mention at the time that he wasn't physically capable of playing his game - but it showed.

"After the injury," he said yesterday, "the first 10 or 15 games were really tough and I didn't feel physically well. It was a very frustrating time. But since Christmas, I've felt a lot better. Sometimes you don't get the goals, but you still feel you're playing well out there. I feel I've been the same as the time - I've been consistent, but sometimes you don't get the results. Now the puck is going in and everybody thinks you're playing that much better.

"If you compare the way I am now to what I was a month or six weeks ago, I'm the same now as I was then, but things are going well. If you compare me to last year, I'm in a lot better shape now than I was after the cancer year, there's no doubt about that."

As for Ribeiro and Koivu himself and their much-ballyhooed disagreement, Koivu insists that it's all been blown way out of proportion.

"I can't say we're best friends and we hang out all the time, but we do get along great. At the all-star break, we both went to Florida and hung out there and there's no problem. When you have 25 guys on your team, it's not like you're going to have the same relationship with everybody and you're going to have your buddies - but there's no problem at all."

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