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Hawks rookie backup Raanta is all smiles

Published: Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 6:23 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 11:40 p.m. CDT

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CHICAGO – Antti Raanta watched fellow Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford toward the end of Friday’s practice and waited his turn to take the net.

He waited.

And waited a little more.

Bingo.

Crawford vacated his spot in the crease and greeted his backup with a fist bump. Which is to say, a glove bump.

This is how goaltenders greet each other.

“Something stupid like the goalies usually do,” Raanta, 24, said with a smile after the end of practice at Johnny’s IceHouse West. “That’s usually the best part of the day, when you go to the ice and have fun there. It’s only like 45 minutes, an hour, so you just try to keep going hard but keep on smiling and keep on having fun.”

In a new role on a new team in a new country, Raanta is having fun.

Picture Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown, except 10 years younger, and with a Finnish accent, and with a little (OK, a lot) more mischief in his grin.

And just as McCown quickly bonded with Jay Cutler, Raanta has become fast friends with Crawford.

“When I first met Corey, I knew he was going to be a great guy,” said Raanta, who signed a 1-year deal in June after starring in Finland. “Of course, after last season, I watched a couple tapes about him. So I knew he has good speeches, also.”

Bleepin’ right, Chicago.

Yet the funny Finn also has good perspective to go along with his sense of humor.

On Friday, Raanta entered the Hawks’ locker room to see a dozen or so reporters and TV cameras surrounding Crawford. The Hawks will head north to visit the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, and Crawford (a Montreal native) is scheduled to start in net, so it made for an easy story of the day.

Raanta didn’t seem to mind the fact that no cameras stopped in front of his locker. Likewise, he has had no problem serving as Crawford’s fill-in, during which time he has posted a terrific 11-1-3 record with a 2.27 goals-against average in 16 games.

By comparison, Crawford is 17-7-5 with a 2.49 goals-against average in 30 games. He missed several weeks in December because of a groin injury but reclaimed his starting job upon returning Jan. 2.

“I wasn’t expecting that I was going to be the first guy straight away,” said Raanta, who aspires to have a long career in the NHL. “Of course, you have to earn the minutes, and you can’t expect anything else if you’re not working hard and you’re not showing the team and showing the coaches that you’re stopping the pucks. …

“Everything is new, so I just try to get my game to the top level all the time and try to learn new things. Every time when we play, even if I’m on the bench, I see new things on the ice.”

Now that he’s in the U.S., Raanta sees new things just about everywhere he goes.

“The different language is the huge thing,” Raanta said.

The roads aren’t so bad. In Finland, people also drive on the right side of the road.

“Driving is pretty easy here,” Raanta said, “if you just watch where you’re going.”

As for how Chicago compares with Raanta’s hometown of Rauma?

“I’m going to say it’s a pretty huge city,” Raanta said. “Like, if I go to my hometown, it’s 38,000 people. I can go to O’Hare and see that many people in one day.

“But it’s been really nice. The city, every day is a new day. You can go to restaurants, you can find new places to go.

“To a small-town kid, it’s pretty nice to live in Chicago. And everybody is nice here.”

Another Stanley Cup championship is a legitimate possibility for the Hawks in 2014. Raanta provides a reliable backup plan if Crawford goes down.

Life is good, Hawks fans.

Glove bump.

• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at tmusick@shawmedia.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.

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