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Top 100 Goalies: No. 52 — Tuukka Rask

One-sided trade was a steal for the Bruins and a blessing in disguise for rock-solid Rask, who has quietly become one of Boston’s all-time best in net.

Becoming a goaltender was second nature to Tuukka Rask. He knew what he wanted to do by age three, thanks to a cousin and godfather who played in net. “It was never a question for me,” Rask said. “I never considered another position.”

Growing up in Savonlinna, Finland, Rask was a fan of fellow resident Jarmo Myllys, who led Finland to World Championship gold in 1995. Rask also watched an NHL highlight show on Finnish TV that gave him a peek at stars such as Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Mike Richter and John Vanbiesbrouck.

As Rask got older, he became one to watch himself. In 2005, he scorched the Finnish junior league playoffs with a 0.87 goals-against average and .973 save percentage. That summer, the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted him in 21st overall.

Rask backed up his lofty draft status by helping Finland capture the bronze medal at the 2006 world juniors. Facing a loaded U.S. squad featuring Phil Kessel, T.J. Oshie and Bobby Ryan, Rask made 37 saves in a 4-2 win. “That was my second year at the world juniors, and I had been lucky enough to be the No. 1 the year before, so I had the experience,” he said. “Playing the tournament in Vancouver made it more special because we got to play in front of so many people.”

Rask was named goalie of the tournament, but in the summer Toronto made a grievous trade by flipping him to the Boston Bruins for fellow netminder Andrew Raycroft, a Calder Trophy winner with a couple NHL seasons already under his belt. That win-now approach by the Leafs turned out to be tremendously short-sighted, as Raycroft lasted just two seasons in Toronto before being bought out. Young Rask was unfazed by the drama, however. “It was a blessing, in a way,” he said. “When you’re living in Finland, you don’t know what to expect from the NHL. You’re just trying to work hard to get there. I didn’t know Toronto, I didn’t know Boston. It was just a transaction.”

Once Rask came over to North America, he spent some time in the AHL with Providence, but it didn’t take long for him to make an impact with the big squad. By 2009-10, he was splitting duty with veteran journeyman Tim Thomas, and the two made magic together in the Bruins crease. One year later, with Thomas taking the reins and Rask as backup, Boston went all the way, defeating the Vancouver Canucks in a spellbinding seven-game Stanley Cup final. “It was very nice to be a part of it,” Rask said. “We started the season in Prague (as part of an NHL season-opening series in Europe) and grew together from there. It showed what could happen when everyone pulled on the same rope. I didn’t play a second in the playoffs, but I always felt like part of the lineup. We made another run a couple years later, and it was the same feeling.”

When the NHL owners locked out the players in 2012, Rask went back to Europe – but not Finland. Instead, with jobs filling up in Russia and Switzerland, he headed to Plzen of the Czech League. “They were nice enough to get me there,” he said. “I just wanted to get some games under my belt, but I liked the country from my time in Prague, and I liked the people.”

When the lockout ended, he rejoined the Bruins, while Plzen ended up winning the championship. He received a gold medal from the team that summer.

The lockout-shortened NHL campaign of 2012-13 featured Rask in the spotlight for Boston – Thomas sat out that season and ended up in Florida the following year – as the Bruins again went to the final. This time, however, they fell to the Chicago Blackhawks. Nonetheless, Rask was on the ascent.

He led the NHL in shutouts that season and again in 2013-14, when he finished with seven shutouts and a .930 save percentage. His efforts earned him the Vezina Trophy, not to mention a bronze medal at the Olympics, where he once again put up stunning numbers for Finland. Not only did Rask play exceptionally well in Sochi, but he broke the host country’s heart by stonewalling Russia in the quarterfinal, stopping 37 shots in a 3-1 victory.

With all that behind him, the 31-year-old Rask still has a lot of good hockey ahead. At 6-foot-3, his size has always been an asset, but he also has the athleticism to stay on top. The NHL is faster than ever, and Rask has made sure not to fall behind. “You have to be a student of the game,” he said. “Luckily for me, speed has never been an issue. I can move. Now it’s not just about blocking. You have to make saves with your glove and feet.”

If there’s one aspect of Rask’s game that he needs to control, it’s his fiery, competitive nature, but any coach will tell you that’s a better scenario than having a player who doesn’t care enough. Since the Bruins in front of him are pretty strong, there’s a good chance Rask could get another Cup ring before his career ends, not to mention another Vezina.

Born: March 10, 1987, Savonlinna, Fin.
NHL Career: 2007-present
Teams: Bos
Stats: 238-137-53, 2.26 GAA, .922 SP, 41 SO
Awards: 1 (Vezina-1)
All-Star: 1 (First-1)
Stanley Cups: 1

DID YOU KNOW?

Hockey is Rask’s top pastime, but when he’s not on the ice he likes to get behind a drum kit. And since he’s from Finland, heavy metal is usually on the docket. “I’m not a superfan, I like all kinds of music, but if I have to get on the drums, it would be hard rock or metal,” he said. Finnish acts such as Children of Bodom and Amorphis are faves, but Metallica is still Rask’s top pick, especially when he’s drumming.

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