International Ice Hockey Federation

Rantanen raring to go

Rantanen raring to go

Finnish captain elevates his game

Published 05.01.2016 10:24 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Rantanen raring to go
Finnish captain Mikko Rantanen skates with the puck during the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
At this tournament, Finland’s top line of Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho, and Patrik Laine has made headlines. But Mikko Rantanen stepped up at a key time.

The Finnish captain made two beautiful passes to set up goals by linemates Roope Hintz and Antti Kalapudas as the host team came back to beat archrival Sweden 2-1 in Monday’s first semi-final at Hartwall Arena. Rantanen showed great attention to detail on the winner, providing a screen in front of Swedish goalie Linus Soderstrom after he dished the puck.

Now Finland is looking to capture its second gold medal in the last three years, facing off against Russia on Tuesday night. The high-scoring blue-and-white team seems to have improved defensively at just the right time.

“It was a very good game for us,” Rantanen said. “Sweden scored the first goal, but we still kept going. I think that’s one of our strengths. We used the crowd as a strength too. It was the best game of the tournament for us.”

The towering, Nousiainen-born forward has often made a name for himself due to his youth. For instance, he began playing for TPS Turku in the Finnish Liiga at the tender age of 16. This season, he made the opening-night roster of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche when he was still 18.

But at the 2016 World Juniors, he’s considered a mature, veteran leader at 19. Rantanen led Finland with four goals at last year’s tournament in Canada, but wasn’t satisfied with the team’s seventh-place finish. Here in Helsinki, he’s earned the respect of his teammates.

“He leads in the locker room and on the ice and on the bench,” said Hintz. “It’s awesome to play with him.”

Over the years, Rantanen has looked up to various NHL stars as role models, including Sidney Crosby and Peter Forsberg. More recently, he’s also taken an interest in the style of Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Canada.

There was some Getzlaf influence in how the 2015 Colorado first-rounder (10th overall) pivoted to pass the puck on Hintz’s goal and used his 192-cm, 98-kg body to create havoc in front on the Kalapudas winner.

Explaining what he likes about Getzlaf, Rantanen said: “He’s a big guy, tough to defend against. He sees the ice well. I try to learn and watch how he plays.”

At one time, Rantanen also was interested in becoming a professional soccer or tennis player. But Finnish fans are thankful he chose hockey instead.

Even though Colorado dispatched him to the AHL after six games this season, he’s shone as the leading scorer of the San Antonio Rampage (10-16-26). And now, he’s on the brink of winning a title that would outshine the crown he earned with TPS’s junior squad last year (14 points in seven games).

Temperatures may dip as low as -15 C during the gold medal game in Helsinki. But Rantanen can feel hockey fever heating up throughout the Finnish capital – and right across this Nordic nation of 5.4 million people. Both of Finland’s IIHF championship titles this decade – the 2011 Worlds in Slovakia and the 2014 World Juniors in Sweden – triggered wild celebrations.

“I think everybody wants to come to the game, but it’s going to be sold out, so not everybody can come,” Rantanen said. “But on our home TV, there will be over a million people watching. So we’re going to have support.”

Odds are good that the gold medal game will expand the membership of the Mikko Rantanen Fan Club too.


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