Antti Raanta’s had to adjust to a lot in a brief period of time.
The Finnish goaltender the Blackhawks acquired last season had to get used to the smaller and North American ice surface. There are those difference bounces off the boards and the smaller goalie crease. And don’t forget the equipment, which includes new skates and shorter pads.
“Everything,” Raanta said. “From the bottom to top, everything is new.”
But just in this past week, Raanta’s adjusted pretty well. He’s altered his movements to suit that equipment, tracked the puck better and has felt more comfortable. And tonight, Raanta will get his first big test when he faces the Washington Capitals.
[MORE: Hawks head east to face Capitals]
For the affable Raanta, his first NHL training camp has been an enjoyable one. Yes, those adjustments have been plentiful. But the learning experience has been beneficial. Coach Joel Quenneville’s likes Raanta’s progression.
“He’s improving each and every day. He’s more comfortable in his surroundings, and with the way guys in front of him are moving as well,” he said. “I like his attitude. He has a good approach to the game.”
Raanta was supposed to get his first taste of North American ice back in July when the Blackhawks held their prospect camp. But a high-ankle injury sidelined him — he had surgery soon after — and his indoctrination had to wait. When he finally did hit the smaller ice earlier this month at the team’s camp at the University of Notre Dame, he struggled.
“I think there were four games; and each game, the first or second shot I went in. So that wasn’t the perfect start,” Raanta said with a laugh. “But I’ve been getting better in practice. Monday, third period in the scrimmage, was good. I was getting a couple saves and getting comfortable in net.”
[RELATED: Kruger relishing role with Blackhawks]
So how much of a difference are the two ice surfaces for a goaltender?
“The biggest thing for me is, in Europe the crease is a half circle. Here the goalie crease is smaller. It’s difficult to know where you are, but just have to see the puck and start working that out,” he said. “The movements have to be faster and you’re not doing as big a move, because then you open yourself up.”
Raanta will keep adjusting to the new ice, equipment and surroundings. He’s enjoyed his time in Chicago, from its restaurants to its shopping options. He said his new teammates have helped him find his way around — “they know more than me. I just walk to Michigan Avenue,” he said.
The last few weeks have been eye-opening for Raanta, but they’ve been a good learning experience. He’ll likely continue his growth process in Rockford.
“Every day is much better,” Raanta said. “I’m still trying to get to know the gear here and all that; when that starts feeling great, then everything will be fine. Just keep your eye on the puck and just find the puck all the time. It’s getting easier to me all the time.”