It’s often been said that each player to make the NHL comes with his own unique story. And if you’re looking for something a little non-traditional, goaltender Cal Petersen certainly checks several boxes.
Among the menu items to choose from, you have the kid from Waterloo, IA – a place not often confused with a hockey hotbed. Originally selected by the Sabres in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft, Petersen opted not to sign with Buffalo and was content on seeing what other clubs would have to offer him as a free agent in 2017. While the stats from his time at Notre Dame were impressive enough, serving as captain of the Fighting Irish is something that should more than stand out on its own, as even in the collegiate ranks that’s not a role typically filled by a netminder.
At 22 years old, coming off of a standout junior season, where he posted a 23-12-5 record in 40 games, along with a .926 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average, he inked a two-year Entry Level Contract with the Kings in July 2017. Almost instantly, he was already anointed the heir apparent to two-time Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick.
While those might be some pretty big shoes to someday fill, Petersen has looked every bit up to the task. He entered our annual Midseason Prospect Rankings at No. 6 last January as a first-year pro and then just recently was announced as the No. 1 Kings prospect on our 2019 list.
“That’s very cool!” Petersen said, upon hearing the news. “I think a lot of it is a testament to the help that I’ve gotten from Dusty [Imoo] and Billy [Ranford] since I first came into the organization. They’ve helped put me into the best position to make the next step and take my game to a new level. My time here so far has consistently proven that I made the right decision to join this organization.”
Now 24 years old and just starting to come into his own, this lanky keeper of the crease isn’t simply content to be in the pipeline, coaches say he’s hellbent on making his mark in the NHL, as we wrote about here.
Earlier this season, he had his first cup of coffee in the NHL, filling in while Quick was out injured for a brief period of time. During his 11 games with Los Angeles, Petersen posted a .924 save percentage – quite the improvement from his sub-.900 mark in the AHL this season.
“I was obviously very happy about how I handled the opportunity with the Kings, it felt like I took a huge step in my game,” he said. “When I came back here [to Ontario], it’s obviously been a challenging year all around; wins haven’t come easily and there’s been some growing pains.”
Indeed, with an often inexperienced defense in front of him — and one that has allowed an average of 51 shots on goal in five of his last six games played – Petersen has been put to the test most nights this season.
“The biggest thing for me has just been trying to gain on that momentum that I got when I was up,” he continued. “The tough part here is that sometimes you feel like you have great games, but it doesn’t really reflect on the scoreboard that well. The biggest challenge has been to stick to my game, even on some tough nights, so I’m proud of that part of it.”
Helping him stay grounded has been the aforementioned Imoo, LA’s low-key goaltending guru. The 48-year-old native of British Columbia brings a very new-age approach to his coaching and it really seems to mesh well with what Petersen needs to achieve his full potential.
“Dusty has been awesome, I can’t say enough good things about him,” Petersen relayed with a huge smile. “I didn’t know Dusty all that well when I came in here, and just to see the relationship we were able to create last year, and have it carry on to this year, he’s been awesome. It’s hard to put into words, because he has that ability to help me out technically, but I think his greatest suit – and you can ask [Jack] Campbell, you can ask [Peter] Budaj – is to be able to relate to the goalies, to be there for us. I think sometimes, it’s all about having a guy in your corner. Throughout my career, been the one guy that has really helped me on that side of things, create a good mental space where I can be my best every night.”
By all accounts, their communication ebbs and flows, largely based upon what’s needed that particular day or week. In general, their interactions aren’t just limited to what takes place during practice.
“Even before that, we’re watching video from the games before,” Petersen explained. “Then, when he’s on the road, he’s always watching games and keeping touch. He’s very sensitive to when he feels like he needs to reach out and when he feels like he needs to give us some space. Even when he’s not here, I know he’s paying attention and available for feedback whenever I need it.”
Most importantly, it’s a style of mentoring that seems to be working well for Petersen. Imoo is constantly angling to not let the mental aspect of the game transition into a negative mind space for his young goalie.
“That’s been really huge,” Petersen remarked. “I’m a competitive guy and the first thing I want to do is win. There have been some rough nights on the scoreboard; but the next day, I’ll go back and look at video with him. It’s nice to see that you played your game and did the things you needed to do. I think the biggest thing is controlling what you can control and you have to let the other stuff handle itself. He’s been great at helping me keep that mentality and not fall off the ledge when there have been some challenging nights.”
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