MONTREAL - F1 driver Valtteri Bottas impressed us all when he hit the ice on Wednesday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard - and it's safe to say the man loves hockey. With that in mind, we spent some time with him talking about our national sport, which has always been just as popular in his native Finland.
Did you play hockey growing up?
VALTTERI BOTTAS: I played for nine or 10 years when I was a kid. I stopped when I was 14 or 15. I played a lot. After school, my friends and I would go out on the frozen lake or ice rink to play.
So, you really had to choose between hockey and racing?
VB: Yes, I had to choose. I was getting more and more involved in racing. It's the same thing with hockey. When you're playing hockey, it gets more and more professional as you get older and move up. So, then I chose to focus only on racing. But, hockey still holds a special place in my heart.
Which position did you play?
VB: I played a few years of defense, a few years up front. I was even a goalie for a few years, so I didn't focus on one position, which was maybe a bit of a mistake. But, it was fun. I learned a lot.
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When did you first hear about the Montreal Canadiens?
VB: I can't remember, but it was obviously when I was a kid. I was six and I was collecting hockey cards. It grew from there.
Are the Canadiens your favorite NHL team?
VB: I kind of liked Boston when I was a kid, but now I can say that Montreal is my favorite NHL team.
Do you know Saku Koivu?
VB: I've met him, yes. I've been lucky to meet some cool people. He was a great, great player, and especially here, what he went through in his career, it's very impressive what he has done and achieved. I have great respect for him.
What have you heard about another one of our Finnish players, Artturi Lehkonen?
VB: He's a young guy, so I'm looking forward to hearing a lot more about him.
He's fairly new to the media circus typical of professional sports, but you're not. Do you have any advice for him on how to handle it?
VB: I don't think he needs advice. He scores plenty of goals, so life is good. I'm sure he's got a good team behind him like I do helping him out with everything. You get used to it all… kind of.
Is there a story behind the No. 77 on your car?
VB: I just like seven, so I thought why not make it double seven. My name, Bottas, instead of the t's, you can write it with sevens.
How about your helmet? Goaltenders always have some association with what appears on them. Is there any meaning behind yours?
VB: I've had a similar style since I was a kid. It has evolved a lot since. I've had special helmets for special races. Generally, it was the helmet of a French driver, Olivier Panis. I liked the colors and I like some of his races. I kind of copied his helmet and modified it from there.
Video: Valtteri Bottas takes a Zamboni for a spin on the ice
Hockey players play soccer before games to get warmed up. What do you do before a race?
VB: It depends. When I'm here, I always play hockey. Just before, it's mainly a bit of stretching and relaxing, because it's quite hectic and busy. I'm just that type of person, who needs some time on my own to get ready. I don't exercise or do anything like that.
What's your favorite part of Montreal?
VB: Mount Royal. I love trails. Every year, I go there for a run. That's my favorite place.