MONTREAL (WNCN) – The boos rained down on Jesperi Kotkaniemi from the Montreal crowd every time he took the ice Thursday, intensifying when he touched the puck. The young Hurricanes forward expected that type of treatment after signing a one-year, $6.1 million contract with Carolina in the offseason after Montreal failed to match the offer sheet.
The boos were never so loud after Kotkaniemi scored his first goal of the season at the expense of his old team.
“It felt really good,” Kotkaniemi admitted. “It was a big relief after those first two games but it was a great feeling.”
Kotkaniemi’s goal gave the Hurricanes a 3-1 third-period lead as they sent a reeling Montreal to its fifth straight loss to begin the year. Meanwhile, the ‘Canes move to 3-0 early in the season. Kotkaniemi’s tally came at a key moment.
“I thought he had a good game and got rewarded there with a big goal, so I was happy for him,” said Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour.
Kotkaniemi’s return to Montreal hovered over the ‘Canes for four days leading up to the contest. They knew they would be facing a hostile crowd ready to make life miserable for a player they once cheered for.
“That’s tough for anyone, whether you’re a young kid or not,” Brind’Amour said of the fan treatment of Kotkaniemi. “You don’t want to hear that, but I think he was expecting that kind of reaction. He answered that the best way he could.”
“I think it was fun,” Kotkaniemi said of the boos. “It gets you going a little bit, hearing that every time you’re going on the ice. I enjoyed that.”
His teammates loved it even more. The young Finn has become a locker room favorite, and to see him have success on a night like this felt good.
“It was very exciting when he scored that goal,” said Andrei Svechnikov, who scored his fourth goal of the year on Thursday. “It’s going to give him a lot of confidence and all the guys were excited, too.”
With the highly anticipated return of Kotkaniemi to Montreal now in the rearview mirror, the Hurricanes will now head to Columbus on Saturday before starting a four-game homestand on Monday.