Antti Raanta ready for first NHL start
November, 27, 2013
By Ryan Dittrick
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesAntti Raanta is set to make his first NHL start in goal for the Hawks on Wednesday against Calgary.
CALGARY, Alberta -- Finnish rookie Antti Raanta could hardly sleep last night, and understandably so.
“I got a little,” he laughed. “There’s a lot going on in my head right now, but I’ll get in a good game-day nap and settle into my normal routine.
“This is a big day for me.”
The 24-year-old will make his first NHL start Wednesday as the Chicago Blackhawks’ seven-game, 15-day road trip continues with a date against the sputtering Calgary Flames.
“I'm sure he's thrilled,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “This is a great opportunity for him. He works hard every day, he has some life when he's not playing and is ready to go in at any moment.”
If Raanta is at all nervous for his first NHL start, he’s certainly hiding it well. Bouncing off the walls with a mile-wide grin, casually stopping even the most difficult of shots at the morning skate, he’s carrying the vibe of seasoned pro.
He did, after all, just make his NHL debut not too long ago, stopping 14 of 16 shots in relief of Corey Crawford last week against the Colorado Avalanche.
But this is a new ball game altogether. The crease will be his from the anthems on out.
“I faced some shots and made a couple good saves, so I knew after the game that I can play and have success at this level,” Raanta said. “Of course, there are many more challenges to come, but I feel comfortable. I want to do well right off the bat, but you never know what will happen.
"I'm going to enjoy the moment and try to show everybody what I have."
Crawford has played exceptionally well of late, winning eight of his last 10 and improving to 16-4-3 after Monday’s romp over the Edmonton Oilers, but even the strongest of athletes need a breather every now and then.
Crawford is coming off his 15th straight appearance and hasn’t had a complete game off since Oct. 24, a 6-5 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The loss was charged to backup Nikolai Khabibulin, who went down with a groin injury Nov. 16, prompting Raanta’s recall from the Rockford IceHogs.
He has posted a 7-5-0 record, 2.83 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 14 AHL games this season.
Before signing with the Blackhawks over the summer, Raanta spent the last two seasons as the starter with Assat Pori of the SM-liiga, winning both the regular season and playoff MVP titles.
He was highly coveted by a number of NHL teams, but Chicago proved to be the best fit.
“Finland produces some excellent goalies. It must be the water,” Raanta laughed. “Goalie coaching in Finland is done at such a high level. It's a small country and everybody wants to be a goalie, so there’s a strong focus on that.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that kind of attention.”
Late hits: Marian Hossa, who’s missed the last two games after tending to a family matter back home in Chicago, will be back in the lineup against the Flames. As a result, Jeremy Morin has been reassigned to Rockford.
Hossa will skate alongside Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews on the top line.
The rest of the lines are as follows: Brandon Saad - Michal Handzus - Patrick Kane, Andrew Shaw - Brandon Pirri - Kris Versteeg and Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith.
Veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya, who took a puck off his left knee in Monday’s victory in Edmonton, will play vs. Calgary.
Michael Kostka (foot/ankle) is still a few days away.