ROCKFORD, Ill. – Rockford IceHogs goaltender Antti Raanta was feeling good and ready for his North American regular-season debut last week.
As Raanta put it, he was hoping for three periods, an overtime and a shootout when the IceHogs opened their season against the San Antonio Rampage on Oct. 3. He wanted as much hockey as he could get on the first night.
What Raanta actually experienced in his first game didn’t come close to that. After stopping the first two shots he faced, Raanta took a puck straight off his knee. He fought through the pain and made one more save, but his limp was noticeable and he was removed after 5:36 of playing time.
Raanta was taken to get X-rays immediately, and no fractures were found. He sat out the IceHogs’ second game, but he returned to this practice this week and is expected to play again this weekend.
“It was a tough shot, straight to the knee,” said Raanta, who was in good spirits after a recent IceHogs’ practice. “It was a little bit of a scare, but thank God we went straight from San Antonio and took the pictures and saw there was nothing broken. I hope that I’m going to get more playing time and don’t have to leave after the first five minutes on the ice.”
The Chicago Blackhawks would certainly like to get the 24-year-old Raanta more time. He was signed to a one-year deal by the Blackhawks in June after being named the regular-season and playoff MVP of the SM-liiga in Finland. He had a 21-10-11 record, 1.85 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in the regular season and a 1.45 goals-against average and 955 save percentage in the playoffs.
Raanta opened training camp with the Blackhawks, but he was sent to IceHogs to get adjusted to North American hockey, which includes a smaller rink than Raanta played on in Europe.
Raanta has only played in practices, scrimmages, a few exhibition games and the five minutes he saw against the Rampage, but he felt the transition was going smoothly so far.
“That’s getting better and better all the time,” Raanta said. “It hasn’t been as tough as I was expecting. I was expecting it was going to take two months to know it. Of course, I have only played a few games, so I still can’t say what the biggest changes are for the goalies, but I think it has been pretty easy for me.”
Raanta did point to the game’s speed as being one area he had to adjust to from Finland.
“Guys are passing so fast,” Raanta said. “The puck is going so fast from A to B. You have to be ready all the time. You can’t be thinking your own thing. Of course, shots are coming, too. Guys can shoot into the top corners and lower blocker and that sort of thing. You just get used to it and be ready all the time. It’ll be good.”
IceHogs coach Ted Dent thought the most important teaching tool for Raanta would simply be to give him in-game experience.
“It just takes time,” Dent said. “There’s nothing you can really do to teach them, to show them other than them to experience it in live situations.”
Off the ice, Raanta said he’s had no trouble to adapting to life in North America. He was planning to get his own car and place in Rockford and said his fiancé and dog were coming to live with him later in the month.
Raanta’s objective isn’t to stay in Rockford, though. He hopes the Blackhawks give him a chance in their net at some point this season.
“I think every player in the American League that’s their dream,” Raanta said. “You have to show you can play in the NHL. You have to show first you can play in the American League. That’s the biggest goal.”