About nine hours prior to puck drop, Sampo Ranta found out he was going to make his NHL debut in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It was the morning skate before the game, game-day morning skate, so it was pretty exciting," he said. "I was super excited and I felt ready to go, and I told my family and let them know I was playing. It was a good day."
Ranta was on a trio in the contest with fellow rookie Alex Newhook and veteran center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and logged 7:47 of ice time in 12 shifts in his first NHL contest--Game 1 of the Colorado Avalanche's second-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday.
The young forward, who turned 21 years old the day after his debut, is just the fifth player in franchise history to make his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the third since the team moved to Denver, joining Cale Makar in 2019 and Joey Hishon in 2014.
"When you take in that that's his first NHL game and it's against a real good team in Vegas and in the second round of the playoffs, the moment wasn't too big for him and we're going to need a lot of guys," head coach Jared Bednar said after Ranta's debut. "I thought to give him a chance at home when I can control the matchups a little bit, see how he handles it was a good time instead of if we lose a guy or something as the series goes on, I could be inserting him later on for his first NHL game. So, I wanted to get him into the series as early as I can, and now we'll reevaluate."
Selected by the Avalanche in the third round (78th overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft, Ranta spent the majority of the year competing in his junior season with the University of Minnesota. He finished the campaign with a career-best 31 points in 31 games while also establishing career highs in goals (19) and assists (12).
His 19 tallies ranked second in the nation while he led the Gophers in goals and points, and his plus-19 rating and four game-winners were both tied for second on the team. The Naantali, Finland, native was named to the All-Big Ten First Team and was a Big Ten All-Tournament Team Selection as well.
During his three years of college hockey, Ranta finished with 67 points (37 goals, 30 assists) and a plus-27 rating in 102 career NCAA games with Minnesota.
He signed his three-year, entry-level contract with the Avalanche on April 3 and made his professional debut a week later on April 10th with the American Hockey League's Colorado Eagles.
He skated in a total of 14 regular-season contests and two playoff outings with the Eagles, totaling seven points (four goals, three assists) in the main campaign and a goal and an assist in two postseason contests. His performance with AHL Colorado, as well as what he accomplished while with Minnesota, showed the Avalanche staff that the young forward was ready for the opportunity.
"Great college career, goes to the American League, chips in immediately, makes an impact, scores a bunch of goals. Has a physicality to his game, can skate. Joe (Sakic) and Chris (MacFarland) like what they see there," said Bednar after Game 1. "Talked to [Eagles head coach Greg Cronin], liked what he saw and then he comes up and gets in our practice. He's a young guy, but he's big, he's strong, he's fast. I met with him on our systems, he seemed to understand them. I thought he was fantastic… I thought he was on pucks in the offensive zone, he was physical, he skated well, he tracked well, responsible, didn't have any turnovers. I thought it was a real good night from him."
These past few months have challenged Ranta to adapt his game and quickly adjust to new levels of play, but it has also been full of lifelong memories and milestone moments. More are sure to come.