by Zach Dooley | AHL On The Beat
After Cal Petersen posted a 41-save shutout on opening night, his head coach described his play as “Cal-like.”
Pretty flattering when your name becomes an adjective for good play in net.
The following day, Mike Stothers found himself at a loss for adjectives to describe his goaltender’s play.
“I mean, I don’t know what more superlatives you can say about him,” Stothers said. “He just stands tall, he covers up for some mistakes. He makes the routine saves and then he makes the difficult saves actually look routine too. Real good.”
Forward Matt Luff called Petersen the Ontario Reign’s MVP after a 2-1 win in Bakersfield in late October, a game in which Petersen stopped 35 of the 36 shots he faced.
Defenseman Paul LaDue has described Petersen’s play as “lights out,” while forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan has already come to know his teammate as one of the best goalies in the AHL.
“Some of those saves he’s making, he shouldn’t be able to make and it’s definitely comforting to know you have him back there… Without a goalie like that, those are in the back of the net,” Anderson-Dolan said.
As the season has progressed, so have the statistics for Petersen. The third-year goaltender has started every game for the Reign thus far and has posted a 7-3-2 record. He leads all AHL netminders in minutes played, shots faced, saves and wins heading into the weekend’s two-game set in his home state of Iowa.
Don’t look for a break to come in the near future either. Petersen’s 12 starts have included four back-to-backs, as well as a stretch with three games in four nights. So long as his head coach wants him starting, Petersen is up for the challenge.
“I’m fine playing all the games that Stutts wants me to put in,” Petersen said. “I like to pride myself on being called upon whenever I need to be. I played a lot of games in college, played a lot of back-to-backs, so I’m fairly used to that. Like Stutts says, all the other guys have to play, so why doesn’t the goalie have to play too. I’m fine with it whenever my number is called.”
Most recently, coming off a heavy workload of 39 saves on 43 shots in a 4-0 loss in Colorado on Tuesday, Petersen bounced back with a 23-save shutout the following night, which included a lower overall workload but several high-quality chances against. Petersen has proven to be good for highlight reel stops in most games this season, with a flashy right-pad save on Wednesday the latest in the bunch.
The goaltender’s play this season has placed him amongst the AHL’s top netminders and it’s no surprise to those who work with him closest.
Petersen’s steady demeanor and quiet competitiveness in net lends itself well to the goaltending position.
“You see those attributes in Cal, his calmness,” Matt Millar, goaltending development coach for the Kings, said. “His demeanor is almost chill in the net, but in practice, you realize how elite of a competitor he is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a shooting drill during a practice or a shootout, whatever it is, he’s an elite competitor.”
Millar noted that it’s the competitiveness that brings Petersen to another level and completes the package as a goaltender. When you add that fire and drive to the naturally talented player, it takes him to the next level.
“He has an elite skill set as a goalie and he’s a great person,” Millar added. “You add that competitor piece on top of that and you have a really good blend of attributes that allow someone to be an unbelievable goaltender.” For Petersen, he also adds an element of leadership to the equation. Goaltender and leader do not always go hand-in-hand with each other, at least on the surface. By rule, goaltenders aren’t allowed to wear either a “C” or “A” on their jerseys in the AHL and NHL levels, something that Petersen did in college at the University of Notre Dame.
“If I could put a letter on Cal I probably would,” Stothers said. “I think that much of him as a person and I know his teammates do the same. He is a natural leader.”
There are obvious challenges to a goaltender being in that position, in that the goalie can’t be the player talking to officials during the game. Just because he doesn’t have the letter on his jersey, however, doesn’t mean he isn’t a leader on the Reign. Petersen is a part of Ontario’s six-man leadership group that meets regularly with coaches and now in his third season, he shows leadership qualities in different ways.
“I think just, based on the position, you’re on the ice at all times and I think there’s a natural leadership position that comes with being the last line of defense,” Petersen said. “I think it’s more so just trying to be the hardest working guy on the ice and helping guys out when you get the chance, just being there for everybody.”
Millar points to a strong system of “peer leadership” in place in the Kings organization, starting at the top with Kings netminders Jonathan Quick and Jack Campbell. He notes that the selfless effort that Quick, Campbell and Peter Budaj did, working with Cal earlier in his career, now sees the torch passed on as Petersen works with younger Ontario netminders Cole Kehler and Matt Villalta.
“Cal does a really good job off the ice of talking with guys, connecting with them and spending the time to get to know the younger goalies like Matt and Cole,” Millar said.
Petersen signed a three-year contract with Los Angeles in the offseason, which shows the commitment from the organization to him, and vice versa. The progression path for the Waterloo, Iowa, native since he originally signed with the Kings in 2017 has bolstered the depth in the organization behind Quick and Campbell. While his time in the NHL awaits, Petersen is taking his time in Ontario as a chance to continue to grow as a leader.
“I thought, if I was back [with Ontario] that was something I could take advantage of and it would be a big opportunity,” Petersen said. I had some great leaders when I first came into the league and for a lot of these young guys, it’s a big step. If you have a good, solid group of guys who are in a leadership position, who can make everybody feel welcome and help everybody reach their potential, there’s a great opportunity.”