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Blackhawks' Raanta honors Belfour with new mask

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Antti Raanta had a surprise in store for his Chicago Blackhawks teammates Sunday afternoon when they returned to practice after the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Instead of his normal mask, the Finnish rookie goaltender sported a throwback design reminiscent of former star Eddie Belfour. It was designed by Raanta's Phoenix-based mask painter for him to wear in the next installment of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, an outdoor game March 1 at Soldier Field between the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins.

"If you think about great Chicago Blackhawks [goaltenders], you think of Eddie Belfour and everybody says 'Eddie the Eagle,'" Raanta said. "I didn't have any ideas for the outdoor game mask and I was thinking it would be nice to respect a great goalkeeper in that kind of game. So, I got the idea for the mask from the Phoenix guy who painted it. He said it would be pretty awesome and it turned out to be pretty awesome. I don't know what Eddie thinks about that, but I hope he likes it."

The design is pretty much spot on with Belfour's old mask, right down to the dual bald eagles on each side. It quickly became a conversation piece among Blackhawks players who worked out on the ice.

"I said, 'I don't know if [Belfour's] going to be very happy about that,' forward Kris Versteeg said, smiling."But [Raanta] actually looked a lot like him. It was kind of weird. I think it looks awesome. If I was 'Eddie the Eagle,' I'd be pretty pumped. I think it looks pretty sweet."

Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks' No. 1 goalie, has his own mask redesign for the game. But Raanta further ramped up the style factor for the outdoor game and the mask will go nicely with his slick new goalie gear, which he released via a picture on Twitter. Raanta's new gear -- pads, blocker and catching glove -- is colored solid black with red-and-white accents.

"I love it," Crawford said, chuckling. "His whole getup is pretty cool. He's got some good style and he surprised us again with that mask. That's a good throwback. I hadn't seen it before. It's pretty cool, the throwback 'Eddie the Eagle,' look."

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville didn't feel quite as strongly as some of his players. Asked his thoughts on the new "Eddie the Eagle" at practice, Quenneville just smiled before answering.

"I didn't quite notice, but I thought the goaltending today was outstanding," he said. "I'm going to take a better look at it [Monday]."

Told that Raanta was going for the look to honor Belfour, Quenneville again smiled.

"That's good," he said. "Good ... I'm going to go look at it now."

Everybody should get a good look whenever he breaks it out the next week. Raanta said he doesn't know what the mask's future entails following the big game at Soldier Field.

"It would be awesome to keep it myself, but I don't know what everybody's thinking," Raanta said. "Maybe there's something [planned], but we'll see after the game. Maybe Eddie wants it back?"

No matter what becomes of the new mask, Raanta is getting excited about playing in front of so many fans outdoors. He played outside when he was younger, at home in Finland, but obviously on a much smaller scale.

"It's going to be an unreal feeling when you go out there," said Raanta, who started his first season in North America with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. "It's been so long since I was outside with the goalie gear on. I have been outside skating and shooting the puck, but not with the goalie gear on. It's going to be a pretty awesome feeling and I'm getting new stuff for the game, plus the new mask, so it's going to be really nice."

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