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Sampo Ranta is embracing the journey with the Colorado Eagles

Meghan Angley Avatar
December 1, 2021

Avalanche viewership is relatively familiar with Sampo Ranta after 10 games with Colorado to start this season. He came to Denver fresh out of college after an impressive NCAA career with the Minnesota Gophers. In his third and final college season, he finished second in the league as a leading goal scorer just behind Cole Caufield – earning a place on the All-Big Ten First Team in the process.

After Minnesota, he played 14 games with the Colorado Eagles and briefly appeared in two playoff games for the Avalanche before later reporting to training camp, impressing the coaching staff, and landing a spot on the Avalanche’s opening night roster for this season – even with that four-penalty game in the preseason that left many wondering, “Why him?”

Ranta plays fast hockey. Sometimes his body appears to move faster than his brain can process. Truthfully, some of the disciplinary areas of his game that could be cleaned up might be a product of unbridled speed at times (I watched him nearly bulldoze an official because even the referee was not anticipating that kind of quickness in his entry).

Ranta has addressed fine-tuning that aspect of his game, citing the transition from NCAA to professional play requiring some adaptation.

His speed may catch you off guard because of his size and physicality. At 6’2”, 195 pounds, he doesn’t lose battles often. He brings a palpable persistence to take on board battles, unafraid to get in the thick of things and coming to his linemates’ aid when they are being outworked. 

Ranta’s doggedness grants him an edge to rob skaters on either end of the ice. Ranta faced challenges early this season. During his time with the Avalanche, he didn’t register a single point.

It was only during his fourth game with the Eagles that he notched his first point, an assist in the last series against Henderson. Even in the throes of a difficult scoring drought, Ranta’s level of compete remained high. 

It would be a disservice to qualify his first and second goals of the season as merely opportunity – a lot of individual hard work created the chances. So, what did he tell himself to overcome this on Saturday?

“I just gotta play the right way – being good defensively,” Ranta said. “The offensive side of the game is natural to me, so just stick with it. [And I] haven’t scored for a while so just sticking with it, doing things the right way, and sticking with my strengths.”

“It was good to get a couple tonight, get the monkey off the back a little bit, so I want to keep building on this and play the right way,” Ranta finished.

Unsurprisingly, this response is nearly verbatim the feedback Coach Cronin offered on his vision for Ranta – being reliable defensively and chipping in offensively that is.

Another notable component is Cronin’s belief that Ranta is a third or fourth line NHL player. Cronin does not mince words and certainly doesn’t waste time with meaningless grandeur. 

How does Ranta classify himself as a player?

“A power forward. I want to be a complete player. [The] offensive side is easy for me and just being more reliable defensively – a true and complete player all the way. I want to be a guy who can play all situations: PP, PK, and the first and last minutes of the game. Just become a power forward who’s really reliable offensively and defensively,” he admitted.

Ranta’s first goal of the season came with three seconds left in the second period. It’s a storyline that almost writes itself to hear him talk about playing every minute of the game. 

Alex Beaucage received the lone assist on the goal, but it was Ranta’s hard work to pick the puck from a Heat player in the neutral zone that sent him charging up the ice with Beaucage in tow.

Sampo Ranta solidified an effective spot on the Minnesota Gophers’ powerplay – emerging as a leading powerplay goal scorer in his sophomore and junior season. Ranta is seeing opportunity on the Eagles’ powerplay, primarily on PP2. 

Also typically on the second shift for the Eagles’ penalty kill, Ranta is already seeing valuable chances to develop his skillset on special teams. This speaks to refining the defensive areas of his game by placing faith in his play during high-risk situations.

Stockton had six powerplay opportunities in Friday’s contest and capitalized on just one the entire weekend out of 11 chances. The powerplay goal against on night one proved to be the costly tying goal that would force overtime. Ranta was not on the ice for the PPG but he was utilized in the 3-on-3 overtime hockey that ensued.

Ranta’s experience with the Avalanche to start this season is not for naught. That power forward identity Ranta alludes to takes form in the lessons he took away from his time in Denver.

“The defensive side of the game is something I gotta work on,” Ranta said. “That’s what they want me to do better: being good on the walls, being the power forward they want me to be, being physical, [and] hanging on to the puck – that’s where I want to put my identity and perfect those things.”

It appears Ranta is on a path to find his way back to the Avalanche roster – but in due time. Ranta’s approach to his role with the Eagles is modest and appreciative with an emphasis on being a “team guy”. So, what happens next?

“Work on the details. Listen to coaches here – they’re doing an awesome job with me, they help me all the time,” he explained. “When the time comes, just to be ready and do things the right way and be good in those areas they want me to be good at and [continue] building my identity.”

The Colorado Eagles are experiencing reoccurring issues within their forward depth – not a far cry from the difficulties the Avalanche have faced so far. With Jayson Megna and (previously) Kiefer Sherwood and Martin Kaut up with the Avalanche and Shane Bowers, Gabriel Fontaine, and (newly) Callahan Burke out of the lineup due to injury, there has been a lot of blending in Loveland as well.

Because of this, we can expect some changes to the Eagles lineup ahead of this weekend’s series against the Tucson Roadrunners – especially with the possible return of Shane Bowers.

Colorado is among league leaders in shots on goal – with that in mind, a question of shot quality also arises amid low-scoring games.

“We gotta find scoring,” Cronin said. “We don’t get a lot of rebound goals – that’s been a challenge for us. In terms of analytics, we got a lot of quality shots inside home plate but we’re not getting a lot of second shots off of rebounds and we gotta work on that.”

Coach Cronin was not completely impressed by the Eagles’ effort in their win Saturday night.

“I thought it was a sloppy game,” he said. “There were moments where there was some speed to it, but I think we were opportunistic. I thought Justus played really well. I think we gave out 4 or 5 powerplays again which is not a good habit. We were opportunistic. We scored goals when we had possession and Justus stopped them.”

The Eagles were unable to capitalize on 9 powerplay chances, so this also remains an area to focus on in practice this week. 

“We gotta get our powerplay going. That’s the biggest thing. If we don’t get that going we’re going to lose some offense, but we’ll work on that this week.”

Weekend Notes:

  • Returning from COVID-19 protocol is defenseman Keaton Middleton
  • With so little practice time ahead of Middleton’s return, the Eagles wanted seven available D for the series and utilized defenseman Rob Hamilton at center as a precaution
  • Defenseman Dennis Gilbert is a little banged up and won’t be back “for a while”

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