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Meet the Antti-goalie

Hawks rookie isn't about to shut you out of the conversation

  • Blackhawks backup goaltender Antti Raanta will wear a helmet honoring former Hawks Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour on Saturday
Blackhawks backup goaltender Antti Raanta will wear a helmet honoring… (Courtesy of the Chicago…)
February 26, 2014|By Scott King | For RedEye

Antti Raanta is a different breed of hockey goaltender. He's not reserved, doesn't have odd rituals before games and 99 percent of the time, he's smiling. Smiling seems to be his favorite.

"Goalies are kind of known for being kind of in their own little world there," defenseman Sheldon Brookbank said. "Antti is a pretty easygoing, happy guy. He likes to goof around and stuff like that. Most Finns are usually good guys though, so it's not too surprising."

The rookie and native of Rauma, Finland, quickly warmed up to teammates when he was called up from Rockford early this season.

"It's funny," forward Patrick Sharp said. "I hear lots of stories from 'Rants.' He's a pretty funny guy. He fits into our locker room right away. He's always got something to stay. He's got a great quote for the media as well. So he's fitting in and we love him."

They also have to like how he's performed this season. Since taking over as the backup for starting goalie Corey Crawford—including a lengthy stretch Crawford missed with an injury—Raanta has posted a 12-2-3 record with a 2.40 goals against average.

"He's been great," defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "He comes in when asked upon and gives us a chance to win. He's fun to be around; he's one of those guys you want to play for and work as hard as you can in front of him."

When he's not stopping pucks, Raanta often regales his teammates with stories from serving in the Finnish army, including one about a training mission gone awry.

"In Finland, every guy has to go into the army when they turn 18, so I went there," the 24-year-old said. "I was there like six months and it was a pretty fun experiment. Learned lots of things about myself and lots of things about teammates, and like that.

"One time I was going with a motorbike and our mission was to take care of the roads out there from the mines, like that. I [had] the map in my hands and I had no idea where I was going. The driver asked me, 'Are we [going] the right way?' And I was like, 'Yeah, yeah, go straight.' Then we turned to the right and we saw the tank full of our leaders [were following] behind us, they went straight, we turned.

"Then we heard in the radio that everybody has exploded from the mines on the road. That was my biggest mistake in the army, my army career. We [drove] also to the mines, so we got 'killed' also. That was a pretty good story."

Although preparing to be at one's peak on the ice takes hard work, Raanta isn't about to compare it military training.

"Not actually; I [had] the RPG [rocket-propelled grenade launcher] on my shoulder all the time," he said. "We were walking with that in the forest and like that. It was pretty good practice at summertime also. But not so much. We could be six hours in the same place laying down and seeing if somebody was coming to the road.

"It's similar to hockey in that there's someone saying what [you should] do and like that. Feels a little bit safer to be in the net than in front of bullets. Both things have been really nice, but I'm happy that I'm the goalkeeper and not the army veteran now."

RAANTA TO WEAR EAGLE MASK SATURDAY

Blackhawks goaltender Antti Raanta will pay tribute to one of his predecessors Saturday. He will sport a mask with an eagle on it in honor of Eddie “The Eagle” Belfour, who played for the Hawks from 1988-97.

Raanta got the idea back home in Finland over the Olympic break.

“I [went] to my guy in Finland who paints the mask,” Raanta said. “I wasn't [getting] too many ideas about the outdoor masks, so he asked if I wanted to do a tribute mask to Eddie Belfour, so that's how it came.

“Then he made a couple pictures [of] the mask and showed it to me and I was like, 'let's do that.' Hopefully Eddie likes that also, so it's an honor to him, not like I want to steal his thing.”

Scott King is a RedEye special contributor.

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