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Raanta: Lucky to share this with Blackhawks family

by Antti Raanta

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Antti Raanta is preparing for his first Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. He's expected to back up starter Corey Crawford on Thursday against the Washington Capitals at Nationals Park, as he did on March 1 in Chicago's Coors Light 2014 NHL Stadium Series game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Raanta agreed to offer his opinions in blog form leading up to the main event.

WASHINGTON -- I've been thinking a lot about how we got here of late. It's been a whirlwind.

We came in last night and that's when you start feeling the excitement that the Winter Classic is close. Everybody was more and more excited about that. This morning when we woke up we knew it would be a special day.

We came to the rink a couple hours early, long before practice, just so we could get out there, see the ice, and really just soak it in. It's a phenomenal stadium and it was a great feeling to be out there. You got that feeling of excitement that you're going to be out on that ice soon.

So we came back in the locker room and we were getting ready for practice, but there was a significant buzz. It was really fun.

We went out there for practice and the sun was still shining. What was great was watching Crow, Corey Crawford, trying to battle the sun because he got the goal that had the glare and I had the other one. That was hilarious to watch him battle that. He asked me, "How did you find the puck?" I laughed. I was like, "Hey, it was way better on my end."

You know what, though, it's those small things that make this so special, a little thing like that in practice makes it memorable even though we did all the normal drills. It even felt more exciting to do those normal drills because you could see all the cameras around the ice and knew they were all focused on you. That was a great feeling.

We then had a chance to play against the USA Warriors. That was great stuff. I think I let in nine goals, so it wasn't the best game of my life, but it was great to play with and against those guys. You could see the smiles on their faces and how much they enjoyed that, and you could see our guys smiling, so you knew how much we were all enjoying it.

After that, we stayed on the ice to skate with family and friends. That's another one of those special moments.

The game will come and I know I might not play because Crow will, but it's still about being a part of this team, this group, the whole month that we've had here with the cameras from EPIX here. It's a great feeling to be a part of this group. It's thrilling to be here even if I'm not playing. It's going to be a great experience again.

That's one of the special things about coming to this team, we get to do all these amazing things.

When I signed with the Blackhawks in 2013, I knew how good the organization was because that's what everybody was saying. When I was thinking about my options I just kept thinking, the Blackhawks have the plan, it's in motion, and the future is bright. As soon as I signed here I felt like I was part of it all.

All the trips we do, staying in the best hotels, all the great things; I was like a kid in a candy store when I came here. Then we had the outdoor game last year and I got so excited waiting for my new gear to arrive, and it was even cooler that it was snowing during the game.

The whole feeling about being a part of this group, it's a dream come true. It's a big family.

But when the game starts, you never know what can happen. I've got to prepare to be ready to go in, and hey, maybe we'll be winning 6-0 late in the third period and they'll say, "OK, Antti, go ahead."

I know goalies like to play the whole game, and that's fine. Everybody wants to be here, everybody wants to be a part of it, and if my role is to be a backup I'm fine with that. But if anything happens, I'm ready to go when they need me.

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