MONTREAL - When Kati Kotkaniemi joined her son in Montreal in October, she quickly made him feel at home.
And for that, the 18-year-old centerman will always be grateful.
"It was a big thing for me. I'd never lived alone before. It was my first time out of my hometown of Pori, so it was good to have her here," praised Kotkaniemi, referencing Kati's decision to relocate to Canada to help him adapt to his brand new living situation far away from their native Finland. "It felt like she took care of everything. It was a big sacrifice for her."
Among the myriad of things Kati helped Jesperi with, meal prep was at the top of the list.
There's nothing quite like home cooking for a hungry youngster, of course.
"My favorite is the game day pasta with Bolognese sauce. I always eat at home. I would even eat that on my day off, too. It's pretty damn good," mentioned Kotkaniemi with a laugh, before shedding some more light on just how clutch Kati proved to be when it came to making certain the Canadiens' rookie was well fed. "Sometimes, I would text her when we were driving home from the airport and I was starving after a road trip. She would make sandwiches at like three o'clock in the morning. Getting those warm sandwiches was great."
There's a lot more to this mother-son relationship than food, though. Kati was a rock for Jesperi all season long, someone he could confide in day after day during the grind of an NHL season.
"When you're a young guy and you're facing new things every day, you can go home and talk about everything like hockey or whatever you're thinking with her," explained Kotkaniemi. "Feeling safe all the time when you go home, you know someone is there waiting for you, so it's a pretty good combo."
Video: WPG@MTL: Kotkaniemi fires home power-play goal
It certainly is. Kati was always at the Bell Centre, too, cheering Jesperi and the rest of the Habs on throughout the year.
According to the Canadiens' No. 15, his mother isn't your run-of-the-mill spectator.
"When she's watching, I think she's pretty much living the game. She's following everything," said Kotkaniemi, who relished the opportunity to have Kati in the stands for support. "She doesn't just watch me, she likes to watch the whole picture. I think it was super good for me and her, just having my dream and probably hers, too. It was fun that I had the chance to experience that with her. I think she's my biggest fan, so it was good for both of us."
Unfortunately, Kati wasn't in attendance when Jesperi sent the Bell Centre faithful into an absolute frenzy with his remarkable performance against the Washington Capitals on November 1st.
She'd returned to Scandinavia a week earlier for a brief stay after helping him get settled in La Belle Province.
He still enjoys recounting the events of that memorable night.
"I think that was funny. When I scored my first goal, she was in Finland. She just went back. My dad even watched all the games before that, but that was the first game he didn't watch," revealed Kotkaniemi. "My dad said that my mom just started to yell, 'He did it! He did it!' It was the middle of the night back home."
Video: WSH@MTL: Kotkaniemi beats Holtby for first NHL goal
A special connection
Kati and Jesperi apparently have a lot in common personality-wise, which only further strengthens their bond with one another.
"I think I'm more like her and my brother is more like my dad. We're kind of like the same person. We're doing everything like the same style," shared Kotkaniemi. "We're doing the same things. We're pretty sharp. We like to be very careful and precise. We like to do everything tip-top. And I think we both smile a lot."
No doubt those similarities make spending time away from the rink together at their Old Montreal condo and around town all the more enjoyable.
"Living in the Old Port, we take walks in some nice areas. We like to walk around and grab coffee," mentioned Kotkaniemi. "Montreal was a big change for her. The city is a little bigger than where we're from in Finland. It brought so many new things and different culture. But, she loves it because there's always something new to experience every time."
So what's on tap for Mother's Day in Montreal, Jesperi? Any cool plans?
"A little gift, a nice dinner," replied Kotkaniemi, whose father, Mikael, is still in town as well. "We're leaving next week, so it'll probably be our last dinner in Montreal for a while."
We hope you have a wonderful time with your family today, Kati! You deserve it. Happy Mother's Day!