Antti Raanta got into the Chicago Blackhawks’ net at the end of warm-ups, taking a few shots from his teammates as the backup goaltender usually does.
“I was like, ‘Whoa. Nice shots,’” Raanta said with a laugh. “Of course the competition is much harder here. You have to be your best every day. But that’s why you’re a goalie and why you want to be No. 1 every time.”
Raanta was just taking practice shots on Sunday night but he’ll be facing the real thing at some point on the Blackhawks’ seven-game road trip, which begins Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche. Raanta, who was called up from Rockford after Nikolai Khabibulin was injured on Saturday, is understandably excited for the opportunity. It’s why he’s tried to adjust to the North American ice and game as quickly as possible, and he wants to make the most of the chance.
"Every day is like a new day. You want to be in the NHL but you have to just go one day at a time,” Raanta said after Sunday’s game. “I had a good game (Saturday) in Rockford, so I was pretty excited. I was pumped to come here and show what I have. That’s pretty exciting.”
After not being too happy with his training camp, Raanta’s spent these last two-plus months honing his game. The results have been pretty solid: the 24-year-old Raanta had a 7-5-0 record with a 2.83 goals-against average in 14 appearances. He’s worked plenty with Andrew Allen, Rockford’s developmental goaltending coach, and Allen’s been impressed with Raanta’s progress.
“He’s learning all the time and he’s come a long way in a short time,” Allen said. “Coming over to North America, getting used to different size of the rink, everything is new. But he looks a lot more comfortable.”
When he first adjusted to the smaller ice surface, Raanta said his biggest issue was learning the angles. Allen said Raanta had to work on something else, too.
“The biggest adjustment is the traffic. There’s a lot more traffic in front of the net here, and it’s all the time. He has to be fighting through it all the time,” Allen said. “We worked a lot on that, through traffic, just battling to find the sight lines all the time.”
So now Raanta’s here with the Blackhawks, looking to apply everything he’s learned from his crash course in North American ice hockey. As a backup goaltender, he doesn’t have to be exceptional. He doesn’t have to stand on his head every night. He just has to be solid, give the Blackhawks a chance to win when he’s in there, and give Corey Crawford a full game’s rest. Raanta’s Rockford experience, however brief, helps.
“I got a lot of games down (in Rockford), so it’s good. There have been good games and then a few not-so-good-games, but every goalie has those games,” he said. “Of course, it’s so exciting to be here now and hopefully I’ll get the chance and show a good 60 minutes.”
Raanta’s excited about getting his chance. He knows there’ll be some anxiety, but he’s willing to deal with it to get this NHL chance. Allen said Raanta should be fine through it all.
“There are going to be nerves, that’s natural. But his demeanor quite laid back for a goalie, so I see him handling it very well,” Allen said. “This is the great opportunity that’s he’s been looking for. I hope for him he goes right in there and makes a difference when he does get a chance.”