MONTREAL - Jesperi Kotkaniemi has never taken in a Formula One race, but that's all about to change on Sunday.
The 18-year-old centerman is back in Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix festivities and will be in attendance at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve to watch the world's top drivers ply their trade over the weekend.
No doubt Kotkaniemi will be cheering on the likes of fellow Finns Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo) and Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) once the red lights go out at the starting line.
Bottas, of course, is a big Canadiens fan, and he is eagerly anticipating a meeting with Kotkaniemi in the coming days at the track.
"I think he'll be my guest at the Grand Prix. It's going to be nice to share his experiences from last season and his thoughts about the future," said Bottas, during a phone interview earlier in the week from Calgary. "It's nice to learn about other sports."
Watching the Canadiens this past season was extra special for the five-time Formula One race winner, who currently ranks second in the driver standings this year behind teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Bottas had four Finns to track all year long, including Kotkaniemi and fellow forwards Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen, in addition to goaltender Antti Niemi.
"I was following, especially the performance of the Finnish players. It's always nice to see fellow countrymen do well in sports. I have a ton of support for each one of them," confirmed Bottas, who quickly became a Kotkaniemi supporter after the young gun cracked the roster out of training camp. "I was really impressed by the performance of Kotkaniemi. He's still a young guy and it's very, very nice to see. There's always pressure when you're jumping to a team like this and everyone expects you to perform. He just kept doing what he knows how to do best, which is playing hockey."
The Canadiens' No. 15 has been looking forward to meeting with Bottas as well since returning from a brief stay in Scandinavia.
"I'm super excited. He's one of the biggest athletes in Finland, one of the most popular guys. I can't wait. It's a small country, so it's good to know other athletes and keep in touch with each other," said Kotkaniemi. "Kimi and Valtteri are the guys all the Finns are following. They're heroes."
There's actually a connection, of sorts, between the Kotkaniemi and Bottas camps that will surely make the encounter between the two all the more special.
"My uncle is coming with his Valtteri's general manager. They're childhood friends. They're coming together," revealed Kotkaniemi. "Maybe next year we'll go on the ice together."
That would be a sweet follow-up to Bottas' previous on-ice experience with Paul Byron at the Bell Sports Complex back in June 2017.
Video: Valtteri Bottas races Paul Byron in five challenges
Suiting up at the Canadiens' practice facility two years ago meant the world to the 29-year-old Nastola native.
"I still have the stick. I play with it in Finland. I've also worn the gear many times on the ice with my friends," mentioned Bottas. "Sometimes I wear the Finnish jersey and sometimes Canadiens. I also have a nice Canadiens winter hat as well."
A love for Montreal
Montreal is one of Bottas' favorite stops on the Formula One circuit every year.
"It's definitely one of the best races," affirmed Bottas, who posted his second straight second-place finish in the Canadian Grand Prix last summer. "It's more of an old school type of circuit. It always makes for good racing. The track layout allows for overtaking and a bit more action than some other races. The fanbase in Montreal is huge now. It's always nice to see the crowd and I always feel supported and welcomed. That's a nice little extra."
The city's passion for the greatest game on ice is a bonus for Bottas, too.
"I love hockey. It's a big hockey town. I know the meaning of it. It's a great team, my favorite team. I've had the opportunity luckily to be on the ice a couple of times while in Montreal," said Bottas. "My dad, Rauno, also visits every time. He really loves the city and he's a big hockey fan as well. He used to play a lot. He got me into hockey when I was a kid."
And Bottas' love for the sport only grew from there. But, how does a Europe-based driver stay in the know when his beloved Habs typically play in the overnight hours overseas?
"That's the difficult part. I can't watch every game. I need to keep a rhythm," explained Bottas. "You follow the results and see some of the games. But, they have my full support always."