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Sports Canadiens' Jesperi Kotkaniemi shows some pugilistic skills

22:41  18 january  2020
22:41  18 january  2020 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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a group of people in uniform: The Canadiens' Jesperi Kotkaniemi and the Flyers' Robert Hagg fight during the third period at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Jan. 16, 2020.© Eric Hartline The Canadiens' Jesperi Kotkaniemi and the Flyers' Robert Hagg fight during the third period at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Jan. 16, 2020.

For a 19-year-old who had never been in a fight before in his life — on or off the ice — Jesperi Kotkaniemi handled himself very well.

The Canadiens centre took exception to linemate Ryan Poehling being checked from behind into the boards by Robert Hagg during the third period of Thursday night’s 4-1 win over the Flyers in Philadelphia. Kotkaniemi went after the 24-year-old Hagg, dropped his gloves and lay a beating on him, throwing some right-hand bombs that would have made former Canadien Chris “Knuckles” Nilan proud.

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Nilan actually tweeted out a video of the fight afterward and wrote: “Well done Jesperi Ko-tkaniemi”.

It wasn’t a KO, but Kotkaniemi definitely won the fight. Kotkaniemi is 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds, while Hagg is 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds. Kotkaniemi received a two-minute penalty for being the instigator, a five-minute major for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct.

When Kotkaniemi was asked after Saturday’s morning skate in Brossard if his phone had “blown up” after Thursday’s game, he said: “There’s been something. Nothing too big.”

Then he added with a smile: “Grandma just texted me, like: ‘Don’t do that again.’ ”

“I don’t think we want to see KK fight and fight and fight,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said Saturday morning. “At least he can defend himself, that’s one thing we know. On the other end of what happened the other day, he went to the defence of a teammate. So I support that. I have no issues … I don’t have an issue with him stepping in to help his teammate. But I’m certainly not going to tell him to start fighting. That’s not his game. I think we expect other things from him, but nice to see that he can stand up for himself.”

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Poehling said he was surprised to see Kotkaniemi drop his gloves.

“When I was laying on the ground I looked up to see who was fighting and it was him,” Poehling said. “I was a bit surprised to see him, to say the least. I saw the fight after the game and saw how well he did. It was a cool moment and also it was nice to see that your teammates are going to stick up for you.”

Fighting is becoming less a part of hockey and the younger generation of players didn’t grow up with it. Kotkaniemi never fought while playing in Finland and it was the same for Poehling when he played NCAA hockey at St. Cloud State University.

“College doesn’t really give you an opportunity to fight,” Poehling said. “But I think when a guy does that to you it has to be reciprocated, right? Whereas if (Kotkaniemi’s) in a dangerous spot and some guy goes after him I think I’m going to have to answer the bell at some point as well.”

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Poehling still has a red mark on the side of his right eye from being checked into the boards by Hagg.

“Just kind of a scary thing going face first into the boards,” Poehling said. “I kind of scraped my face and ended up getting lucky, though, with no long-term issues, which is good.”

Kotkaniemi said he wasn’t trying to prove anything with the fight and was simply defending his teammate.

“I think I just pretty surprised everyone and fought for the first time,” he said. “I think for sure I wouldn’t do that last year (as a rookie).

“I just saw Ryan lying down there,” Kotkaniemi added. “I think it happened the game before, too, so I just had to step up a little bit and do something for him.”

Did Kotkaniemi surprise himself with his pugilistic performance?

“I didn’t expect anything, so I just went there and had a little fun,” he said with a smile.

Did he watch the video afterward?

“Yeah,” Kotkaniemi said. “I saw it a few times.”

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

Canadiens send Jesperi Kotkaniemi down to AHL's Laval Rocket .
Jesperi Kotkaniemi got his first taste of the AHL Saturday night. The Canadiens announced ahead of Saturday afternoon’s 4-0 win over the Florida Panthers at the Bell Centre that they had sent Kotkaniemi down to the AHL’s Laval Rocket. Kotkaniemi, who was selected with the No. 3 overall pick at the 2018 NHL Draft, played his first AHL game Saturday night when the Rocket lost 5-4 in overtime to the Belleville Senators at Place Bell in Laval. Kotkaniemi played centre on the first line with Charles Hudon and Joe Cox. Kotkaniemi picked up an assist on Hudon’s 21st goal of the season, which came on a power play.

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