BROSSARD - Paul Byron is well known for being one of the fastest players on the Canadiens. Some might say he's as fast as a race car driver. Unlikely, perhaps, but on Wednesday, he got to spend the morning with one, as Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas dropped by the Bell Sports Complex for a visit ahead of this weekend's F1 race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
The meeting was a chance for the two athletes to compare notes and for Byron to give the Finnish racer a small peek into the daily life of a Montreal Canadien. And though Bottas may have seen many a speedy driver over the years - including teammate and renowned pilot Lewis Hamilton - he still came away dazzled by what Byron had to offer.
"Yes, he's so fast," commented Botas, who named fellow countryman Saku Koivu as his favorite hockey player. "It was a big privilege for me to be on the ice at the same time as him today. It was really cool."
The pair engaged in a series of challenges - a skate-tying competition, a breakaway contest, a skating drill, and a Zamboni race - which, despite some handicaps thrown Byron's way, may have skewed a little more in favor of the hockey player. Bottas took it all in stride.
"No, it wasn't fair, but sometimes life isn't fair. (laughs) I have a lot of respect for these guys on the ice and their speed," continued Bottas, who won the 2017 Russian Grand Prix on April 30, his first career win. "For us, it's a bit different than being quick on the tarmac, but I enjoy ice hockey.
Although the skills challenges the pair engaged in were more hockey-centric, Bottas still managed to show off some solid hockey skills, honed when he played the game growing up until age 15. The native of Nastola, Finland - who said he felt like a "kid in a candy shop" dressed up in full Canadiens gear - managed to roof a wrister in warmups, complete a nifty saucer pass over a car tire and score a goal five-hole in the shootout competition, leaving his new friend and pro hockey player impressed.
"It's really fun to see someone who's so dominant in his sport and to give him a glimpse into your day-to-day," recounted Byron. "I was really surprised at how good he was on the ice. He skates well, shoots the puck really well and for someone who hasn't played in 10 or 15 years, he was really good. Definitely better than I am as a driver!"
Now that the 27-year-old driver is well versed in the day of a life of a professional hockey player, it'll be his turn to reciprocate, as Byron will visit the Mercedes team over the weekend for a look behind the scenes. And the native of Ottawa, ON knows who he'll be cheering for when the red starting lights go off: Bottas.
"When you know someone personally, it gives you something to watch for and to cheer for," explained Byron. "It'll be really cool to see him with the Mercedes team.
"He'll give me a tour on the weekend, so I didn't have much of a chance to talk about his sport with him," he continued. "I know that Formula 1 is a lot about the mental game. To be able to do it at those speeds, it's something really special and I'm excited to see it."
It'll probably come as a relief to the Zamboni drivers at the Bell Sports Complex that Byron will be keeping Bottas busy this weekend. The final challenge of the morning involved the Hab looping around the rink and racing Bottas on the Zamboni. The F1 driver looked like a natural on the mammoth ice cleaning machine, and - if not for his busy schedule - might've found himself a new gig.
"It's a bit different than my car. It was the first time I actually drove it," recalled Bottas. "I enjoyed it. I didn't know it could do donuts, but it did!"
Video: Valtteri Bottas takes a Zamboni for a spin on the ice