Toronto Marlies stars Kasperi Kapanen and Brendan Leipsic sit down with Kristina Rutherford to talk NHL debuts, world junior game winners, gymnastics and swearing in Finnish.

Sportsnet: Let’s hear your scouting reports on each other.
Kasperi Kapanen: I’ve known “Leiper” for a year and a half now. Right away you could see that he’s the clown of the team. He likes to joke around.
Brendan Leipsic: I like to keep it light.
KK I like playing with him, he’s small and he’s shifty and he gives me the puck, and I like to score, so it’s been fun. About his hair, he’s got the curls going on. Not the best look in the world but, you know, can’t do anything about it.
BL Thanks, “Kappy.” When he first got here, Kappy was really quiet, he liked sticking with his Euro friends. He’s come out of his shell a lot this year, his second year now with the Marlies, and he’s a lot more comfortable.
KK At first I didn’t want to be that guy who comes on the team and just starts…
BL Rubbing everyone the wrong way.
KK Yeah and shouting stuff and you’re like, ‘Who is this guy!?’
BL On the ice, obviously his speed’s the one thing that sticks out. He’s got a good shot. He’s a shifty guy. One of the things I like about him is we play cards a lot on the bus, and if something doesn’t go Kappy’s way, he starts shouting all sorts of things in Finnish

Like what?
KK Oh, it’s not for print.
BL Wakes up the whole bus at all hours on road trips, at three in the morning.

You two play together on the power play. Was your on-ice chemistry instant?
KK It’s just there. We get the puck to each other.
BL We’re usually looking for one another, that’s our first option. I’m looking for him cross-ice or he’s trying to find me cross-ice.
KK We try to keep it away from [Kerby] Rychel because he usually messes the power play up.

If you could steal a skill from one another, what would it be?
KK The way he sees the ice. He’ll come down and cut back and he’ll find somebody out of nowhere. I’m on the bench and it’s easier for the guys on the bench and in the stands to see the play — but he makes a play I don’t even see from the bench.
BL I’d probably take his shot. He’s got one of the more underrated shots around. He gets it off in a hurry.

Kapanen, you played on a team with your dad [former NHLer, Sami Kapanen] at one point. Was the chemistry off the charts?
KK No. Probably one of the worst chemistries I’ve ever had with anybody in my life on the ice. It’s just weird. It’s one of the cooler things that’s happened in my life, for sure, playing with him on the same line. But sometimes the chemistry’s not there. I’d rather play with a lot of other guys. He knows it, too; he said it before.

Growing up did you assume you’d follow in your dad’s footsteps?
KK Right away when I learned how to run and walk I always had a stick in my hands, and then I just started playing hockey and it’s something I loved ever since I started. It’s nothing my dad’s ever pushed me to do, it’s something that I loved to do. I watched every single one of his games, and here I am. So far it’s been a good choice.

Brendan, did you grow up thinking you’d be a gymnast?
KK What?

His mom was an Olympic gymnast.
BL Yeah, she went to the Los Angeles Olympics.
KK Wow, I didn’t know that. I just saw her in Winnipeg.
BL I had a bunch of the boys over for dinner. If you would’ve went downstairs, Kappy, she’s got a whole cabinet, there’s stuff on the wall, awards and stuff. My sister was a gymnast, too.

“I like playing with him, he’s small and he’s shifty and he gives me the puck, and I like to score, so it’s been fun.”

How about you?
BL I think when I was four or five my mom put me in a starter gymnast class.
KK I did gymnastics before, too, when I was little
BL When you’re a little kid, on the bars, jumpin’ on trampolines.
KK Oh yeah, it’s a blast.
BL But gymnastics was never really it for me. I got put on blades when I was four years old and there was an outdoor rink right on the back lane where I lived.

How old were you when you realized you were really good?
KK When I was 13, 14, 15, I started playing with guys three, four years older than me. I realized maybe I can do something with this because school was… I did not like school. I had to figure something out quick. That was the only thing I knew how to do.

You’re not an academic?
KK I’m decent in school when I focus.
BL You just have to apply yourself, Kappy.
KK We had English in school so that was so easy for me. I was excited for that.
BL I can barely tell he has an accent.
KK It’s a little rusty now, my Finnish. Rychel chirps me about it.

How’s your chirping?
KK He’s a superstar.
BL I don’t know if I can really repeat much. For example, last game we had a bunch of penalties and I wasn’t really penalty killing, so me and Rychs were trying to keep ourselves engaged in the game. We were basically yelling at anybody that came by our bench — probably wasn’t a good idea because then we’d have to get out on the ice and they’d probably be running after us. Just subtle chirps about maybe a guy’s hair, or the way they skate, if they’re too slow, saying they’re stuck in mud out there. Or that they look like they were out the night before.

You each debuted with the Leafs last year. How was that?
KK I got called the night before, pretty late. Thank God I was still awake. As soon as I hung up I called my dad, it was like four in the morning over there. I had to call him right away. I called my mom, my dad, I told them what was happening and my mom was really excited and my dad was too. I showed up to the rink, had morning skate and then we had a game. I played really well, I remember that. Should have scored a couple times but it was nice to know all my buddies, they went to my one friend’s place and they watched the game back in Finland. My whole family was watching the game, too. It was pretty special.
BL I ended up flying to Vancouver. Played the next afternoon. My parents took the craziest route to get there: Flew from Winnipeg, through Minneapolis, Seattle, drove out to Vancouver, they cut the line at the border, they missed warmups. I played junior just down the road, so the second phone call I made was to my billets. I hadn’t seen them in a while, so they made the trip up. Scoring my first goal was pretty cool on Hockey Night in Canada.

You picked it out of the air and batted it in. Did you play baseball as a kid?
BL It was just lucky. If you ask Rich Clune — he had an assist on it—he’ll tell you he set me up for a backdoor tap in. Really, he shot it off a defenceman’s back. [Laughs.]

Your parents had a great reaction in the stands.
BL They had a lot of TV time. People bugged me about it, said, “Your mom was a bigger star than you were.” It was great having them there, and my parents’ reaction, that’s what it’s all about. It’s been a long time coming.

How much have you two improved since last season?
KK Last year was a bit of a rollercoaster for me. I’d like to keep this season a little more steady and consistent. I was sick at the beginning of the year and then I had some injuries. Then I didn’t play that well. Then I went to world juniors and I got a little confidence from there.

Just a little? [Kapanen scored the winner for Finland in overtime in the gold medal game].
KK Yeah, a little. [Laughs.]

Did life change after that goal?
KK Oh yeah, you should’ve seen my DMs. No, obviously it’s a big goal and you get recognition for it. My social media exploded, my Instagram.

That’s what it’s all about.
KK That’s why we play hockey
BL That’s your street cred.
KK But that’s in the past and this year, Finland…

I wasn’t going to bring that up. [Finland finished the tournament 1-4, and had to play a relegation game, which the team won.]
KK Yeah, let’s skip that.
BL Here’s Rich Clune. Hey, what are our best chirps?
Clune I can’t say that on tape. My stuff’s not for free.

Photo Credits

Photo Illustration by Drew Lesiuczok; Getty (2); Chris Young/CP; Ben Nelms/CP