Radio colour commentator is one of the few people to have played with the Canadiens at age 18 — even if it was for only one memorable game.
BUFFALO — Sergio Momesso is one of the very few people who can really relate to what Jesperi Kotkaniemi is experiencing as an 18-year-old playing with the Canadiens.
Momesso was also 18 when he made his NHL debut with the Canadiens during the 1983-84 season and it’s a day he will never forget. Momesso had played with the QMJHL’s Shawinigan Cataractes on a Friday night and the next morning the phone rang at his billet’s house. Momesso was told it was Canadiens GM Serge Savard on the phone.
“He said: ‘We need you to come down to Montreal,’ ” Momesso recalled while sitting in the stands at Buffalo’s KeyBank Centre during the Canadiens’ morning skate Thursday. “I guess after their morning skate someone was sick and the (AHL) Nova Scotia Voyageurs were on the road somewhere.
“I called my parents at the house in N.D.G. and said: ‘I’m coming home and make me something for lunch. I think I’m going to get two tickets, so you can come to the game.’ Then I got in my car and started driving. I didn’t have a pre-game nap, that’s for sure, because I was way too excited. I got to the Forum at around 4 o’clock and the Saturday night games were at 8 o’clock back then.”
Momesso’s parents were in the stands that night as Momesso made his NHL debut wearing No. 25 and skating on a line with Bobby Smith and Guy Lafleur against the Calgary Flames. Only four years earlier, Momesso had skipped school to attend the Canadiens’ Stanley Cup parade and managed to fight his way through the crowd to shake Lafleur’s hand.
“I was nervous, for sure, playing a game at the Forum,” Momesso recalled. “It was kind of a rushed day. I didn’t even have a morning skate with the team. It was like I just showed up at the Forum and said: ‘I’m going to come and play with you guys if you don’t mind.’ I think I had only four shifts, but they won a faceoff and Lafleur put the puck in on the rebound. I didn’t get an assist, but I was plus-1.”
“That day was an incredible day,” he recalled. “Everybody in Montreal was so happy. Being part of that parade was pretty special … I’ll never forget that.”
A photo of Momesso in the Stanley Cup parade surrounded by thousands of fans still hangs on a wall at the family’s Momesso’s Caffé Sportivo in N.D.G, which has a reputation for making the best Italian subs in Montreal.
Momesso is a colour commentator for Canadiens games on TSN 690 radio, working with play-by-play man Dan Robertson, so he has had an up-close look at Kotkaniemi, who picked up an assist in Thursday night’s 4-3 loss to the Sabres, giving him 0-4-4 totals and a plus-2 for the season while averaging 14:02 of ice time. Momesso has been very impressed by the Finnish teenager.
“First of all, he belongs,” Momesso said. “I like the fact that they’re not overusing him. He’s playing on the third line and they’re using him properly in certain situations. He played with pros over in Finland, he’s not just coming from junior, so that gave him an advantage. He’s still getting used to the smaller ice, but seems to have adapted well, even in his own zone. He knows how to play … you can see it. Either you got it or you don’t. He’s got the hands and the smarts to play. He moves the puck. He might not be a great skater, but some guys can skate well but when they get the puck they don’t move it quick enough. So even if they’re fast, they can’t keep up to the NHL game. You have to think ahead about where your next pass is going to be. He sees that already … you can spot that right away. I don’t see why he won’t stick around.
“The good thing is that he doesn’t have a lot of pressure, even though he’s in Montreal,” Momesso added. “Fans are just genuinely happy to see him play. They want him to score, but if he doesn’t score it’s OK.”
What’s the best piece of advice Momesso could give Kotkaniemi?
“Just soak it all in and enjoy it,” the former Canadien said. “Enjoy these moments because they’re the best time of your life.”