MONTREAL - Pregame routines often start before players actually arrive at the rink.
That's the case for Artturi Lehkonen. He always calls his biggest supporters back home in Finland on game day.
"I always talk to my folks, every time before a game," revealed Lehkonen. "It's just chatter about everything. Sometimes we talk hockey, sometimes we don't. It's more about what's going on, what's hanging, and I ask about my brothers and sisters. It takes your mind off things for a while."
According to the 24-year-old left-winger, the regular pregame chats with his parents Ismo and Riitta began over half a decade ago.
That coincides with his first year in the Swedish Hockey League with Frolunda HC, which was his final stop overseas.
While hockey isn't always the primary topic of conversation, it does come up from time to time.
A former Finnish Elite League player and coach, Ismo is always prepared to provide his son with some words of wisdom.
"Settle down and play one shift at a time. That's always the message. And find a way to make the right decision every single time you're on the ice," explained Mr. Lehkonen, who works as a hockey broadcaster. "You're like a lion, you're hunting all the time. You have to be patient. You can't win the game in one shift, but you can lose the game in one shift."
With that in mind, Lehkonen has been a real stud on the defensive side of things and earned plenty of penalty-killing duty because of it.
He is the club's fourth-most utilized player in shorthanded situations so far this season.
'Winning is everything'
Make no mistake about it. This father-son duo places winning above all else.
Goals and assists are a distant second to putting up numbers in the win column and moving in the right direction as a collective unit.
"I always remind him that winning is everything. Whatever you're doing, don't gamble with the win," said Mr. Lehkonen. "He's that type of player. He wants to win. Nothing else matters. The rest of the stuff is just details."
When Lehkonen does light the lamp, though, his immediate reaction tells you everything you need to know about his competitive spirit.
There's a real fire inside of him and he desperately wants to contribute to the team's success.
That's always been priority one.
"I know my son. He doesn't care who's scoring if they win. But if he scores one goal and they're losing, he's so upset because he feels he can score two goals," confided Mr. Lehkonen. "He started to do that when he was a little kid, like 10 years old. He figured out that everything is better when you're winning, and he loves that."
It's Artturi's team-first attitude, more than anything else, that puts a smile on his dad's face.
"As a father, I'm so honored that he's doing that," praised Mr. Lehkonen. "I'm so proud because it's a team sport. It's the best message to me when I see he's doing that type of stuff because it's a team sport."
Honesty is important
When Artturi first joined the Canadiens, Ismo did his best to catch the games in the middle of the night overseas.
That practice didn't last long, though. It proved far too difficult to maintain.
"We tried that for a full month during that first season, but then we figured out that we were crazy," joked Mr. Lehkonen. "The night games would come on between 2:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. when you're in your deepest sleep. We just couldn't do that."
Nowadays, Ismo gets up at the crack of dawn at 6:00 a.m. to catch the replay and see the results.
And if he notices something isn't necessarily right in Artturi's game, the four-year NHL veteran wants to know.
"He wants that straight answer," mentioned Mr. Lehkonen. "If there's a situation like that, I'll tell him immediately."
Talk about mutual respect. And there's an incredibly strong bond between these two as well.
It doesn't sound like this pregame ritual will be shelved anytime soon.
"When I hear his voice on the phone, I know if something is wrong or everything is cool," said Mr. Lehkonen. "When he calls, maybe he just wants to hear my voice and what I'm thinking about. But he always wants to know if everything's alright in Finland."