Raanta, Hurricanes’ Masterton nominee, has unfinished business

With a championship ring but not his name on the Stanley Cup, the Finnish goalie is looking forward

Hurricanes goalie Antti Raanta was selected as a Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy nominee by the Carolina chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. (Matt Slocum / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — After several seasons in and out of the lineup with injuries, Antti Raanta wondered if his NHL career was coming to an end.

“It’s been so many nagging injuries, so many small injuries the last three, four years,” he said. “So you started to think a little bit like, ‘Is there any point to even going back and playing?’”

But after some time following a season in which the veteran goalie played just 12 games, calls started coming in for the unrestricted free agent in late July — including one from the Carolina Hurricanes.

“You take a little time off from the hockey,” Raanta said. “You try to forget all the bad things that happened and then start to build toward the new season. Getting that offer from Carolina, that was kind of like where your eyes got that shining feeling.”

So after stops in Chicago, New York and Arizona, Raanta agreed to a two-year deal to come to Raleigh and share the goaltending duties with another newcomer, Frederik Andersen.

A fresh start with a team considered a Stanley Cup contender was just what the — well, let’s not say who ordered it.

Raanta’s bounce-back 2021-22 season led to him being chosen by the Carolina chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association as a nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

The 32-year-old has fit seamlessly with his new team, from being deemed “Father Finn” by his three younger countrymen to his omnipresent smile and easygoing demeanor.

“Great human being,” Hurricanes goalie coach Paul Schonfelder said of Raanta. “Not a mean bone in his body. He’s been a pleasure to work with. Just collaborating with him, no pushback. He’s great.”

And he’s performed in the crease as well.

In 27 appearances, Raanta is 14-5-4 with a .913 save percentage, 2.43 goals-against average and two shutouts.

One of those shutouts came in arguably Carolina’s biggest win of the regular season, a 2-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche in which he made 36 saves. He’s 4-1-2 against teams that have already clinched a playoff berth and has allowed two or fewer goals in 12 of his 23 decisions, giving up more than three goals in regulation just once this season.

“I think he’s done a hell of a job for us,” Schonfelder added.

And now with Andersen injured, Raanta was poised to have a bigger role in the postseason.

Most teams would panic if their No. 1 goaltender went down so close to the end of the regular season, but the Hurricanes have preached all year that they’re confident with either of their goalies backstopping them.

Plus, it’s pretty easy to root for Raanta.

“He’s a great person. Guys love him,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “And that also is a big part of how you play in front of a guy.”

Unfortunately for Raanta, he was injured in Sunday’s game on Long Island, leaving rookie Pyotr Kochetkov to man the Carolina net for now. The team said they will have more information on Raanta’s status in the coming days, so perhaps he could be ready for the start of the postseason in about a week if his injury isn’t severe.

Raanta has never started a playoff game, appearing in relief a total of five times — twice with Arizona and three times in New York. But he’s had postseason success before, winning a championship in Liiga in 2013 that surely encouraged the Blackhawks to sign the undrafted goalie from Rauma, Finland.

“We grew together as a team in the whole season,” Raanta said of his final season in Finland with Assat. “We had some adversity and when we got that done, we just went every day the same. We didn’t change anything, and I think that’s the biggest thing.”

He’s also been around a championship team in the NHL, playing 14 games for Chicago in 2014-15 when the Blackhawks won their most recent Stanley Cup.

“It didn’t really matter what happened, they just trusted the process,” Raanta said of the Blackhawks. “They weren’t panicking if we lost the first game of the first round. … You just have to be (about) the team. You can’t have any individuals who are doing something else.”

Raanta does have a ring from the Blackhawks’ 2015 title season, but the team did not submit his name to be engraved on the Stanley Cup despite doing so for forward Daniel Carcillo — who, like Raanta, did not play in their postseason run.

“I still have the memories,” he said. “You have what it took as a team to get there, and that was huge for me. I was 23 at that time, 24, and I was still like a kid.”

It’s given the 32-year-old a desire to reach the pinnacle of the sport again — and take care of some unfinished business with Lord Stanley.

“It’s something that, maybe at the time, it was kind of like, ‘Oh, that would have been nice to get your name there.’

“But it’s also been my motivation. I think I said to someone after that, when the name didn’t (go on the Cup), the biggest thing for me was to make sure that someday it will be there.”

After years of just trying to be healthy enough to stay on the ice, Raanta can get back to trying to win a Stanley Cup.

“This year is a good chance to do that.”