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Canadiens’ GM Bob Gainey announced Friday that captain Saku Koivu has agreed to a two-year contract with the team for the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 seasons. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The team’s training camp will open on September 11 in Montreal. “We are very pleased to have reached an agreement with Saku for the next two years,” said Gainey. “Saku is extremely committed to the success of the Montreal Canadiens’ organization. He showed a great deal of perseverance and leadership since joining the Canadiens eight years ago. All our players are now under contract for next season, and we can now concentrate on the opening of training camp.” Koivu, 28, led the team in scoring last season with 71 points in 82 games (21 goals, 50 assists) and set personal highs in all offensive categories. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound forward is one of only three players to play all 82 regular season games with the club last season, and led the team with five game-winning goals.

Koivu will begin his ninth season with the Canadiens. Thus far, he has played in a total of 429 regular season games in the NHL, recording 106 goals and 237 assists for a total of 343 points. He has also registered 290 penalty minutes. In 2001-2002, after making a remarkable return to hockey following a battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma cancer, Koivu was named the recipient of the Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. He was selected the 27th captain in Canadiens’ history on Sept. 30, 1999.

Speaking with the media on a conference call from his hometown of Turku, Finland, Koivu expressed his satisfaction at having completed a deal in time for training camp. “It was important for me not to miss a day,” he revealed. “I feel good. Hopefully for the next two years I can just play hockey and have fun.” The captain will arrive in Montreal Saturday morning both optimistic and ready for the challenges of the season ahead. Koivu clarified that while he had enjoyed a good summer, it was far from “easy”, as he had committed to a strict training regimen and had already been skating with the local Finnish team, TPS, four to five times per week. In shape and encouraged by the likely return of defensive force Sheldon Souray and by the anticipated emergence of such young talent as Jason Ward and Mike Komisarek, Koivu stressed that his expectations for the Canadiens in 2003-2004 will be high. “We didn’t show what we can do, last year,” he said. “We’re capable of a lot more.” Before he takes to the ice back in Montreal, however, Koivu has a date with the green.

Asked whether he’ll be on hand for Monday’s annual team golf tournament, the captain replied in the affirmative. “My swing is 100%,” he said, “so I’ll be there.”