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'He's a good player and a good person' - Kivi

Joel Armia's fanbase includes Karri Kivi, who quickly took notice of a youngster with remarkable potential

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

MONTREAL - Count Joel Armia's former coach Karri Kivi among those delighted to see him enjoying a strong start to the 2019-20 campaign.

The 49-year-old Finn was beaming with pride when Armia scored his team-leading sixth goal of the season against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night, which ultimately proved to be the game-winner.

Kivi, who helmed Finnish Elite League side Porin Ässät while Armia was still plying his trade on home soil, wasn't at all surprised by the manner in which the Canadiens' right-winger beat goaltender Michael Hutchinson on a breakaway.

The fact that the goal came just seven seconds into the third period didn't come as a much of a shock either.

Video: TOR@MTL: Armia scores slick PPG early in 3rd

"It wasn't the first time he scored really fast. I started to laugh," quipped Kivi, before having a little fun at Hutchinson's expense. "It's a typical Armia goal. Perhaps I knew better than the goalie."

While Kivi fully expected Armia's breakaway maneuver, he insists the 26-year-old Pori native has a variety of goal-scoring tricks up his sleeve.

Kivi, of course, had a front row seat to watch Armia light the lamp on a regular basis over the course of three seasons between 2010 and 2013.

He even likened his ability to solve netminders to that of a certain Hall-of-Famer and national hero.

"He's a little bit like Teemu Selanne, who I knew really well. The way Teemu scored and the way Joel scores, every goal is a little bit different. Armia has that talent, too," said Kivi. "He has a lot of options. He's calm, and he sees where the free spots are. Sometimes he scores high, and sometimes he scores low. He goes to the backhand and the forehand."

Video: MTL@SJS: Armia craftily tips puck home in the circle

Kivi still fondly recalls setting eyes on a young Armia in Scandinavia.

The impression he made upon his arrival with Porin Ässät was substantial, to say the least.

"He was 17 when he came and he had huge talent, one of the biggest talents ever with the club," explained Kivi. "In the first week, it was obvious that he was going to play the whole season with us. He was a really fast player. He wasn't a typical Finnish player in those days. He was different."

How was Armia unlike the rest? It was all about his demeanor with the puck.

"He didn't hurry up when it was time to finish a play. When he had a chance to score, he was very calm," added Kivi, who saw Armia deliver 18 goals in his freshman season, another 18 in his sophomore campaign, and 19 more in his final season before moving to North America. "He was really sure of himself when he had a scoring chance. He was so special. He captured the audience right away, because Pori is a famous hockey town."

Video: DET@MTL: Armia snaps a quick wrister past Bernier

Under Kivi, Armia played a pivotal role in helping his hometown team claim the Finnish Elite League title in 2013.

His three goals and eight points in 16 postseason games were huge, of course, but Kivi remembers one regular-season marker in particular that made all the difference in the world.

"He was a first-line winger, and he scored the most important goal that season. We had a really, really hard time that year, going up and down. It was the most important game. I think it was in January. He scored in overtime against KalPa, and after that we won 15 of the last 16 games," said Kivi. "That's the goal I will remember all my life. Everything changed after that goal. Everything changed."

Kivi has been tracking Armia's progress in recent seasons, and he has thoroughly enjoyed watching his game steadily improve between Winnipeg and Montreal.

His ex-pupil's penchant for being reliable at both ends of the rink is especially gratifying for him.

"I knew when he left for the NHL that it was going to take a few years to adjust. When he was 17, he was only focusing on offense, but he's really good defensively now. He has a good eye for the game," praised Kivi. "He's even killing penalties, so it's nice to see how he's grown." 

Video: MTL@BUF: Armia nets SHG off Thompson's feed

At the heart of Kivi's admiration for the six-year NHL veteran, though, is Armia's good nature and solid upbringing.

"He's special because he's a nice guy, and he really loves hockey. He's a good player and a good person. He's probably smiling 350 days a year," said Kivi with a laugh. "His parents are also excellent. They are very down-to-earth people, so it's wonderful that their kid is playing in the NHL, especially in Montreal. He's still on his way to his maximum level, but he's getting better."

As for that insatiable passion for the game, Kivi has a cool story to share…

"I remember I was an assistant coach when he was playing U20. It was in early 2010, and I drove him back home one night close to midnight. I heard later that he didn't play so well in the tournament, so he went right away to the basement and started to shoot," concluded Kivi. "Maybe Joel doesn't know that I know, but his mother told me. He was so angry that he practiced in the middle of the night. I never told Joel that I knew about that, though."

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