CHICAGO | Joel Quenneville does not hire goalies as sightseers.
That’s why rookie Antti Raanta should start at least one of the seven games that begin the Blackhawks’ annual “circus trip” starting tonight in Denver.
“Expect Antti to play on the trip,” Hawks coach Quenneville said. “I won’t say how many games, but he’ll play some games.”
He didn’t say as much. Look at perhaps Winnipeg on Thursday, Calgary on Nov. 27 or one of the back-to-back contests in Dallas and Phoenix to conclude the trip Nov. 29-30.
Raanta, a native of Finland, professes not to have nerves waiting for his first NHL start.
“When that day is coming, it’s coming,” he said. “You just have to work as hard you can. It’s nice to go on a little road trip and get good practice and get good experience all the time. We’ll see what happens.”
Raanta was called up to be Corey Crawford’s backup on Saturday after veteran Nikolia Khabibulin was injured in the first period that night in Nashville.
Raanta, 24, posted a 7-5-0 record with a 2.83 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in 14 appearances this season with the American Hockey League Rockford IceHogs. The Hawks signed him as a free agent June 3.
Prior to his North American career, Raanta earned a 21-10-11 record with five shutouts, a 1.85 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage in 45 games last season with Assat Pori of champion SM-liiga in Finland. Raanta led the league in goals-against average and save percentage. He also ranked fifth in shutouts.
“It’s so exciting to be here,” Raanta said. “Competition is so much harder here and every day you have to be the best you can be. That’s why you’re a goalie and that’s why you want to be the No. 1 every time.”
“From the outset, he’s had a pretty good feel for (the North American) game,” Quenneville said. “We’re fortunate to get him with the number of teams that were looking at him.”
Quenneville does not expect to change the defensive scheme when Raanta starts.
“I don’t think you want to change too much the way you play,” he said. “I think the guys around the net, you want them to play the same way. That’s our style of game, I don’t think you want to change too much, the way the goalie is.”
Road warriors?: Quenneville described the seven-game road trip, necessitated annually when the United Center hosts the circus, “as a good test for us."
“We’ve got to go into some tough buildings," the coach said. "We’re away for an extended period of time. We really haven’t played a lot of road games yet. We’ll find out a lot about our team, and our individuals as well. We fit in well together as a team and they like to spend some time together as well.
“As a team, they like being around together. It will be 24/7 the next number of games. It’s all fun, good bonding, good getting together.”
Scoring numbers: Seven Hawks have at least five goals. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and possibly Patrick Sharp are on 30-goal paces.