Lesar: Cal Peterson a born leader in net for Notre Dame hockey

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Wait, what’d Jeff Jackson just say?

The Notre Dame hockey coach was talking about his goalie — and captain — Cal Petersen.

Goalies aren’t normally captains. Maybe it’s hard to lead from behind all those pads. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior is the first in Notre Dame history and the only one currently in Division I.

Sounded like Jackson said, unlike most goalies, “(Petersen) isn’t aloof.” Or, was it, unlike most goalies, “(Petersen) isn’t a goof”?

“Both,” said Jackson, a former goalie himself who was able to crack a smile.

Petersen’s stability, and his leadership skills, will be put to the test Thursday night when he leads the Irish into a Frozen Four meeting with Denver — the nation’s top-ranked team in any poll that matters — at the United Center in Chicago.

If the Irish are going to pull off the amazing upset — sorta like what Mississippi State did to UConn in women’s basketball — Petersen will have to “stand on his head,” as the hockey lingo goes.

He’s been an acrobat for most of this season.

Thursday’s start with be the 90th straight of Petersen’s career, the fourth-longest streak in Division I history. This season, his impressive numbers include: Goals against (2.13, 13th in the country); save percentage (.929, 8th); shutouts (6, tie for 1st); wins (23, tie for 6th); and saves (1,065, 2nd).

Last year, Jackson said Petersen was amazing in two Christmas break games at Denver that resulted in ties.

“There’s a big difference between hockey in December and hockey in April,” Petersen said.

Spoken like a true leader.

“The great captains we’ve had here have been the best team-builders,” said Jackson. “They make sure guys toe the line when they need to. They’re more involved when the coaches aren’t around.

“For me, it was more about (Petersen) and his character; and the fact that he’s a hard worker and he’s a humble guy. He’s a normal kid.”

“The nature of the position, goalies are in the leadership light,” Petersen said. “They can have an influence over games. For me, it’s important to be the hardest working guy on the ice.

“I was making sure it wasn’t a disaster. It worked out somewhat well up to this point. I just tried to be myself and lead the best way I could.”

Recently, The Players Tribune contacted Petersen and had him tell his story of growth that led him to Notre Dame. Like most hockey players, Petersen has had an indirect route to college via junior leagues.

His journey took him from his hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, to Minneapolis (a seven-hour round-trip drive three days a week for practice) and then to Chicago (one year living in a house with a relative, the next in a hotel room with a relative).

All his parents asked in return: Be the hardest worker on the ice every second of the practice.

He continues to take that pledge to heart today.

“It’s important for a guy like Cal, who brings it every day on the ice; in the weight room…” said Jackson. “He can lead by example too. I don’t think he has to have a big voice, necessarily, but he speaks when he needs to.”

“Never really being a captain before, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Petersen, who was claimed by Buffalo in the fifth round of the NHL draft a couple years ago. “I’ve played with some great captains, but for me to be my best I had to carve out my own route. I’ve grown a lot. I understand what our responsibilities are and how (he and the other three captains) can help the team to stay on track.

“When coach brought it up to me, I thought it was too good of an opportunity and honor to pass up. I knew it would be a challenge.

“We’re past where we have to worry about everyone showing up for practice or workouts on time.”

Neither aloof or a goof, Petersen has been the right guy at the right time for the Irish.

They’ve followed his lead all the way to Chicago.

Notre Dame’s Cal Petersen (40) tries to stop a shot that went wide during the Boston College at Notre Dame hockey game in Compton Family Ice Arena Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)

WHO: Notre Dame (23-11-5) vs. Denver (31-7-4)

WHERE: United Center, Chicago

WHEN: Thursday, 9:30 p.m. (EDT)



TICKETS: Available