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Sincere gratitude |

MONTREAL – When Artturi Lehkonen‘s parents, Ismo and Riitta, were planning their current eight-day trip to visit their son, one of their hopes was to be on-site for Tomas Plekanec‘s milestone game on Monday night.

And, with good reason.

When Lehkonen first moved to North America and broke into the NHL ranks in 2016-17, it was Plekanec who took him under his wing and successfully guided him through the inevitable ups and downs that come with being a rookie.

For that, Ismo will be eternally grateful.

“It was huge. To me, it means everything because I owe him a lot,” said Mr. Lehkonen, a former Finnish Elite League player and coach. “The first season, everybody understands that he’s a rookie and there’s so many different ways that things can go wrong. But, all those things that Pleky told Arsi, and the way he helped him on and off the ice, I don’t know how to thank this guy. He’s a hell of a mentor. We were so lucky.”

Tweet from @IsmoLehkonen: Hieno ilta tulossa,go Pleky go! #nhlfi #Plekanec1000

According to Ismo, Plekanec taught his young teammate one valuable lesson after another.

“To do the right things every single night, every single shift, and to be yourself. And, whatever happens, don’t panic,” explained Mr. Lehkonen, referencing the key points Plekanec shared. “He also taught him the importance of taking care of himself and eating and sleeping well.”

There’s no better pro to learn from than Plekanec, of course, because playing 1,000 NHL games doesn’t come easy.

Video: DET@MTL: Ovation for Plekanec’s 1,000th NHL game

The “A” is extra special

Watching Artturi sport an “A” on his jersey at times this season is a good indication of just how far he’s come since debuting with the Habs.

Ismo beams with pride when discussing the letter.

“That means a lot to us as parents,” said Mr. Lehkonen with a smile. “We know that we’re doing something right.”

Nevertheless, the 56-year-old Finn still enjoys having the occasional laugh at his son’s expense.

When asked how Artturi has changed since joining the Habs, Ismo’s reply is just about as good as it gets.

“He’s starting to be a man,” cracked Mr. Lehkonen. “In a couple of years, he’ll start to look like a professional hockey player.”

Enjoying the Montreal experience

The Lehkonens attended their third straight game at the Bell Centre on Monday night, and will be in attendance again on Wednesday night against the St. Louis Blues before heading back overseas.

Ismo has also spent his fair share of time at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard watching practices as well.

Hockey aside, enjoying the sights and sounds of Old Montreal is always a highlight.

“I like to walk, two or three hours a day,” said Mr. Lehkonen. “I’m trying to learn this city and I’m walking all over.”

The best part of the couple’s trip to Canada, though, is simply watching their son play the game he loves – and stay healthy as the season rolls on.

“Last season, it wasn’t so easy to play at this level when you have that type of injury that Arsi had and you’re struggling every single game,” explained Mr. Lehkonen. “Now, it’s a different story. You can see it in his face. He’s laughing and having fun.”

Video: MTL@TOR: Lehkonen nets first goal of 2018-19 season

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