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‘It was my favourite game of the year’: Jesperi Kotkaniemi talks about his new reality in the AHL – Habs Eyes on the Prize



Jesperi Kotkaniemi came back to his stall at Place Bell to talk to the waiting media. The Laval Rocket lost the game to the Belleville Senators 5-4 in overtime, after holding a 4-1 lead in the second half of the third period. It was a game that no one in the Rocket room was happy to be a part of.

There are some things more important than the result of the game, and for Kotkaniemi, he showed the ability to see the bigger picture.

“It was my favourite game of the year,” Kotkaniemi said.

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He didn’t smile when he said this, the loss still weighing hard on him. But while the loss weighed him down, there was also the sense that another weight had lifted.

No player is happy to play in the AHL, or to be sent to the AHL. Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard often mentions that no one dreams to play in that league. Disappointment is normal, if not expected when a player is sent down. But there are positives, and for Kotkaniemi, that includes getting time on the ice and the ability to learn at a different pace than in Montreal.

Kotkaniemi, according to Bouchard, played over 16 minutes in the overtime loss and that was despite not killing penalties in a game Laval took six penalties. The third overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft will eventually take that role on, and will get more ice time as a result.

“He has to fill every role,” said Bouchard. “We want him to be a 200 foot player. We have to get him to kill penalties. He’s a smart player.”

Bouchard said that being in the AHL will allow him to teach him and prepare him for different roles and try new things where the pressure of winning at all costs is not as high as it is in the NHL.

“He needs to play,” Bouchard said. “There are things that I can work on him with that are harder to do at the NHL level.”

Kotkaniemi’s sense of humour didn’t leave him, either perhaps another indicator of where his head is at. When asked what he wanted to improve personally in order to get back to the top level, he gave an answer no one was expecting.

“Just trying to stay alive here,” he said. “There are a few guys who can kill me on every shift, so that’s one thing.”

He did bring it back serious.

“Getting confidence back and playing with the puck a little more I think that will help me,” he said.

The adjustment period surely won’t be easy, but the one thing that may be afforded to Bouchard and Kotkaniemi is time. And both parties know that no matter how long Kotkaniemi is in Laval, there will be opportunities to work.

“There were a few plays he made today where I went to him and said ‘you can’t do that. You do that in the NHL, and Claude [Julien] won’t play you,” Bouchard said. “What I like about Kotkaniemi is that he’s invested. He seemed happy to be here. He understands he needs to play. The reality of the NHL is that it doesn’t forgive you. If you have trouble playing in Laval, you’re not going to get better when you drive 15 minutes south. This is real life. It’s not easier in the NHL.”

While the media and fans have been debating where Kotkaniemi should be playing, the Finnish forward said he wasn’t necessarily expecting to get the news he got on Saturday morning. He showed up to the Bell Centre before the Canadiens game against the Florida Panthers, and that was when he was told he would be sent down.

He then went to Laval, and had a short meeting with Bouchard. Even though Kotkaniemi was making his AHL debut, he does have previous experience with the Rocket bench boss, as he was the coach at Kotkaniemi’s first development and rookie camp at the start of last season.

“We had a relationship and it built fast. For me it wasn’t unchartered territory,” Bouchard said.

There’s a lot of changeover in the Rocket locker room, but it’s hard not to notice that Kotkaniemi’s locker was immediately next to Cale Fleury’s. Both young players took different paths to the NHL, but are going through something very similar this year. Both players were healthy scratches recently in the NHL and both were sent down within 24 hours of one another.

A significant part of the Montreal Canadiens future is in Laval, and while a lot of people involved from fans to the players themselves wish they were the present, sometimes a step backwards is necessary to then move forward.

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World Cup Daily: Timeless Messi is on a mission for Argentina –





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Netherlands dominate USA in first knock-out World Cup match




The Netherlands have put three goals past the USA to book a place in the football World Cup quarter-finals in Qatar.

Despite scoring once, the USA posed little challenge to their opponents, who repeatedly outclassed the Stars and Stripes at the Khalifa International Stadium on Saturday.

Matt Turner in the USA goal produced some spectacular saves to deny the Dutch a larger scoreline, while his opposite number Andries Noppert was called upon far less frequently.

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Mark Turner produced some crucial saves for the USA [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Although the USA enjoyed long periods of possession in a bright first-half display, all too often a lack of composure in the final third let them down.

Instead, it was the Dutch who calmly bided their time before carving open the USA defence with forensic precision.

USA forward Christian Pulisic squandered a golden chance to put his team 1-0 up after only three minutes when he found himself in space only to see a scuffed shot saved.

But the Netherlands grew into the game, with Memphis Depay and Daley Blind finding the net after being both assisted by Denzel Dumfries in the 10th and the first minute of first-half added time, respectively.

Netherlands vs USA
Netherlands fans celebrate their team’s progression to the tournament’s last 8 [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Cody Gakpo cleared Tim Ream’s header off the line early in the second half to keep the Netherlands’ advantage safe, but the men in orange wasted chances to put the game to bed.

Second-half substitute Haji Wright cut the US deficit to 2-1 in the 76th minute when Pulisic’s cross hit his trailing foot and popped over Noppert and into the net.

But Dumfries restored a two-goal lead for the Netherlands in the 81st minute – this time Blind provided the assist.

Runners-up in 1974, 1978 and 2010, the Oranje extended their unbeaten streak to 19 games and will face next the winner of Saturday’s evening clash between Argentina and Australia.

Denzil Dumfries added a late goal
Denzil Dumfries added a late goal [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

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FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Uruguay beats Ghana Group H Jordan Ayew Giorgian de Arrascaeta



AL WAKRAH, Qatar (AP) — Luis Suarez couldn’t watch as his Uruguay team slid toward a painful World Cup exit. He put his hands in front of his eyes, then pulled his shirt over his head. When his face emerged again, there were tears.

The Uruguay captain sat in the dugout after being substituted as his team beat Ghana 2-0 on Friday but was still eliminated from the tournament by a stoppage-time goal in another game.

A late goal by Hwang Hee-chan secured South Korea a last-gasp 2-1 win over Portugal and a place in the last 16 from Group H at Uruguay’s expense because it scored more goals. After the most dramatic end to the group, Portugal advanced as group winner and South Korea clinched second.

Ghana, which came into the last set of games in second place, was also eliminated.

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“It is sadness and disappointment that we feel,” said Suarez, who was playing in his last World Cup. “I was lucky enough to play my fourth World Cup, and I was thinking about my 4-year-old son, who is leaving with the image of sadness. It’s difficult, but it’s up to me to face the situation.”

When Suarez left in the 66th minute of the game, Uruguay was in a position to advance to the knockout stage for a fourth straight World Cup. He had played key roles in both Uruguay goals by Giorgian De Arrascaeta, which came after Ghana captain Andre Ayew missed a 21st-minute penalty.

A shot by Suarez led to De Arrascaeta’s opener in the 26th minute. Suarez then set up the second with a clever pass that De Arrascaeta volleyed in six minutes later.

By the time the final whistle blew, Uruguay’s 2-0 lead still stood but the 35-year-old Suarez’s World Cup career was over.

The realization that it might be heading that way came for Suarez when a screen at the stadium flashed up news of South Korea’s late goal against Portugal. Before that, Suarez was smiling in the dugout.

Uruguay desperately chased another goal through eight minutes of stoppage time. One goal would have been enough to advance on goal difference.

Substitute Maximiliano Gomez hit a shot that Ghana goalkeeper Lawrence Ati Zigi saved by diving to his right in the final minutes. Sebastian Coates missed a shot just wide. Uruguay also had two claims for a late penalty turned down. Several Uruguayan players angrily confronted the referee after the match as they were headed off the field.

“They broke their backs. They gave their best,” Uruguay coach Diego Alonso said.

At the end, the Ghana fans at Al Janoub Stadium chanted “Korea, Korea, Korea” and celebrated Uruguay’s exit, testament to the bitter resentment they still feel towards Suarez and the rest of the national team for one of the most contentious games in World Cup history.

Suarez was responsible for Ghana’s World Cup elimination in the quarterfinals 12 years ago. Then, his deliberate handball on the goal line denied Ghana a certain goal at the very end of extra time.

Suarez was sent off but celebrated wildly on the sidelines when Ghana forward Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting penalty. Uruguay went on to win in a shootout.

That 2010 game loomed over this rematch, stoked by Suarez’s refusal to apologize for his handball when asked to do so on the eve of the game in Qatar by a Ghanaian journalist, who said the player was now known as “el diablo” — a devil — in Ghana.

Ghana coach Otto Addo said the game wasn’t about revenge for 2010.

“What hurts the most is we are out,” Addo said. “It doesn’t matter who it was.”

But that sentiment was not shared by the majority of Ghanaians in the crowd, who booed Suarez every chance they got. One held up a sign before kickoff that read: “Revenge 4 2010.”

The same sign was held up again at the end as Suarez trudged off the field crying.


Ghana’s exit was also painful, and memories of the 2010 agony were revived with Ayew’s missed penalty. Ayew was the only member of Ghana’s current squad on that team, although he missed that quarterfinal match because of a suspension.

He went low to the bottom right corner with his penalty and Uruguay goalkeeper Sergio Rochet guessed right to push it away with his left hand.

“This is football,” Addo said. “Sometimes football is really, really beautiful. Sometimes it’s ugly. Today it was ugly for us.”


Addo said he was stepping down as Ghana coach in keeping with a promise he’d already made that he would only lead the team until the end of the World Cup.


Uruguay missed out on a place in the last 16 for the first time since 2006, when it didn’t qualify for the World Cup. Ghana, a four-time African champion, has exited in the group stage at the last two World Cups it has played.


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