Mikko Rantanen. (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Mikko Rantanen, who's been playing against men since he was 16, is looking forward to going against opponents his own age range.
By Sean Shapiro
Finland | Group B | Roster | THN odds to win: 6:1 This was a new one for Mikko Rantanen. Playing for the San Antonio Rampage, the Colorado Avalanche’s AHL affiliate, Nov. 17, he had his helmet knocked off while the Rampage were on the power play against the Texas Stars. The referee signalled for Rantanen to go to the bench or retrieve his helmet, and the confused 19-year-old obliged. He scooped up his headgear and recovered the puck in one swift motion.
Then the whistle blew. Rantanen hadn’t taken the time to re-secure his chinstrap. In the AHL that means an automatic minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. He didn’t know that rule since he had been up with the big club in Colorado when San Antonio coach Dean Chynoweth went over it with the Rampage before the season. “I guess that’s one of those things he had to learn on his own,” Chynoweth said. Adding to Rantanen’s confusion was the fact this was a school-day game that started at 10:30 a.m. And late in the third period, more than 5,000 local schoolkids in the Alamo City were screaming and pleading for T-shirts being tossed by the Rampage mascot T-Bone. “Nothing like this before, I thought morning was just for practice,” Rantanen said, laughing off the incident after the game. “When the game ends, it feels like the evening, but we still have all day left.” After an up-and-down start to the season, Rantanen will be back in familiar territory when Finland hosts the 2016 World Junior Championship. He’ll be one of the leaders for the Finns, and he had already worked out a deal with Colorado GM Joe Sakic to play for his country if he wasn’t with the Avalanche in late December. “I want to go help my country to play,” Rantanen said. “It’s unbelievable. In the last couple years it’s been becoming a bigger thing in Finland. Now everybody is following that, so it’s going to be a big thing at home.” Rantanen could be a big part of the performance for the Finns after spending the past three months playing against men in North America. At 6-foot-4, 211 pounds, he doesn’t look like a 19-year-old, and his hockey sense has been blossoming with all the opportunities he’s been getting in San Antonio. The Avalanche drafted Rantanen 10th overall last June, but after opening the season in Colorado and struggling in six games, he was sent down to San Antonio. There he’s been playing upwards of 20 minutes a game for the Rampage, and he’s been showing off his smooth hands and ability to create chances offensively. “They want me to play more,” Rantanen said. “I was playing eight to nine minutes in Colorado. Now I’m playing 18 to 20 minutes, so it’s really nice to get a lot of playing time. And when you play more, you get a lot more opportunites.” Rantanen has played against grown men since he made his professional debut as a 16-year-old in the Finnish League. He credits that for his quick AHL transition – he had 13 points in his first 10 AHL games – but he’s looking forward to playing against “kids his own age” in Finland. “That should be a nice change,” he said. “I won’t be the one having to learn new things.”