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Raanta relishing role with Blackhawks

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Updated: February 3, 2014 3:45PM



There’s something of a Zen quality to Blackhawks rookie Antti Raanta. He speaks with a profundity and a perspective that bely his
inexperience and age.

Sure, some if it comes from the natural quirkiness so many goalies seem to have, and the language barrier can help turn a simple phrase into a deep thought every once in a while.

But more than anything, Raanta is a young guy who simply is excited to be in the NHL, happy to be proving himself worthy of a roster spot and looking forward to what comes next — no matter what his role is with
Corey Crawford set to return to the lineup.

‘‘There’s lots of games to play and lots of pucks to save,’’ Raanta said. ‘‘We’ll see.’’

Raanta said that early Monday, with the memory of a 6-5 loss Saturday to the St. Louis Blues still fresh in his mind and before his stellar 1-0 shutout of Los Angeles later in the day. His first career shutout didn’t really change anything — he wasn’t in danger of losing his job because of his performance against the Blues, and he’s not really a threat to take Crawford’s No. 1 spot because of his effort against the Kings — but it was a
triumphant capper to a crucial stretch for Raanta and the Hawks.

When Crawford suffered
a groin injury Dec. 8 with Nikolai Khabibulin already on the shelf, the Hawks didn’t really know what they had in Raanta, who starred last season in his native Finland but was playing in North America (with its smaller ice surface) and in the NHL (with its bigger, faster,
harder-shooting players) for the first time.

‘‘We didn’t know too much about him,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘We were happy to have him in the organization. He was fine in camp, and down in Rockford he was doing all right, too. But it’s a big step, and it’s a different league. The shots he was [facing], the side of the players [and] the pace are all different.’’

Raanta was the only guy who was sure he belonged.

‘‘I think I knew that I could play at this level,’’ he said. ‘‘But, of course, everybody was making questions about it.’’

Ten consecutive starts later, Raanta — now 10-1-3
with a 2.21 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage — seems poised to give the Hawks the one-two punch they had in goal last season with Ray Emery and didn’t have early this season with Khabibulin. That means more days off for Crawford, which only can help come playoff time.

Raanta said he rather would stay in the NHL as a backup than be the No. 1 guy and get a lot of work in Rockford. And he thinks he has earned that right. Quenne-
ville agreed.

‘‘There have been good games, and then there have been a couple of not-so-good games,’’ Raanta said. ‘‘But I think I have played [at a] pretty good level all the time, not letting any totally easy goals [in]. When you think a little bit farther [out], it has been really good.’’

Not only has Raanta kept the Hawks afloat on the ice — with plenty of help from the defensive corps, which has played some of its finest hockey after circling the wagons for the young goalie — but he has energized the locker room with his youthful enthusiasm and offbeat comic stylings.

‘‘He’s pretty funny, he’s pretty relaxed — a goofy guy,’’ winger Patrick Sharp said. ‘‘Fits right into our locker room.

‘‘He’s been great. It’s not easy coming into this league the way he did it, jumping in and starting so many games in a row. And playing that big bulk of hockey was pretty impressive. He’s been solid every game. He gives us a chance to win, and we’re all proud to have him around.’’

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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