ONTARIO, CA — It wasn’t so long ago that the Los Angeles Kings had a bevy of riches in goal. Indeed, with Jonathan Quick becoming a superstar, he had Jonathan Bernier, once thought to be the Kings goaltender of the future, right behind him.
Bernier, who wanted to be a number one goaltender—and rightly so—was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs after the Kings won the Stanley Cup Championship in 2012. Backup goaltender Martin Jones was in the same situation after the Kings won the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship, and was traded to the Boston Bruins, who immediately dealt him to the San Jose Sharks.
The Kings have also had the likes of Jean-Francois Berube and Peter Budaj in their netminder stable. Berube was the victim of the good’ol numbers game with the Kings, and was lost to the New York Islanders, who claimed him off of waivers, while Budaj was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning last season.
In short, the Kings have lost goalies they drafted, or signed as free agents, and then developed into legitimate number one goaltenders. They also lost solid backup goalies and a promising goaltending prospect.
In the cases of Bernier and Jones, a common lament was that the Kings should not have traded them. But no team is going to stand in the way, at least, not for very long, of a young goaltender’s opportunity to be a starting goaltender elsewhere—it’s the right thing to do. But the result was that the Kings goaltending cupboard was quite bare for a few years.
Today, even though the Kings are set with Quick as their top goaltender, they now think they have a legitimate number two goaltender in Jack Campbell, who was recalled last month after the Kings traded backup goalie Darcy Kuemper to Arizona—another goalie who had played himself into an opportunity to be a number one goaltender somewhere. Those moves allowed Cal Petersen, who signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Kings on July 1, 2017, to move into the top spot with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League, and the number three netminder spot with the Kings.
The 23-year-old, 6-1, 182-pound native of Waterloo, Iowa was selected out of the University of Notre Dame by the Buffalo Sabres in the fifth round (129th overall) of the 2013 National Hockey League Draft. He did not sign a contract with the Sabres and became an unrestricted free agent after last season, his junior year.
With Campbell starting the 2017-18 season with the Reign, the Kings decided to have him and Petersen, along with Jeff Zatkoff, who was also sent to Ontario, share the load in a platoon situation, which could’ve been a disaster.
“When you have a situation where you have two goalies, or even three, it could’ve been a nightmare, because not everybody’s happy all the time,” said Dusty Imoo, who handles goaltender development for the Kings. “If that stuff starts to leak, it becomes like a virus, and it can get really ugly, really fast. But I said that we can have a situation where we’ve got great personalities, great work ethic. You can each learn from each other, and when you’re not in, just support the other guy. You’ll elevate each other as you go along.”
“No one’s going to remember whether you played 60 [games] or 30,” added Imoo. “As long as you’re playing great, what a story that would be, and both of those guys took the bull by the horns, the way the season had gone before Jack got called up.”
Noting the risks involved, Imoo was more than a little worried about the platoon situation when the season began. But he pushed his goalies to make the whole thing positive.
“The fact that they were going to be placed in [a platoon] situation, yet they turned it into a positive—that was a big concern of mine going into it, when they said that Jack was going to be going down—that we were going to turn this into something positive,” Imoo noted. “That was my first big sit-down with both of team, and Zatkoff, too, when he was there.”
“We all genuinely enjoyed each other’s presence, and we felt that we could learn a little bit from [each other], all of us,” Imoo added. “We just tried to embrace it, and Jack was feeling a lot of other things from being sent down. But as soon as we put his focus onto where he was, his personality and Cal’s, and even Zat’s, it actually turned out to be the best thing for all of them.”
Goaltenders all want to play in every game. But Petersen understood the situation and he certainly made the best of it, earning a 21-11-1 record, a 2.39 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage, and three shutouts in 35 games, not to mention a spot in the AHL All-Star Classic earlier this season.
“It was a great set-up, with both of us getting a chance to play,” he said. “There’s definitely plenty of games to go around during a pro season. Jack played really well. I learned a lot from him. That partnership paid off.”
“Puck handling is one of the things I’m working on a lot right now,” he added. “More so at this level, I can see how that can help the team breakout of our zone. Watching Jack, he was one of the best in the league [at puck handling].”
“He’s extremely athletic and very competitive. His puck handling was probably the best in the AHL. That’s one thing I really tried to learn from him—how well he was able to do that—control the play and be an extra man down there for our guys.”
As noted previously, Petersen’s strong play earned him a chance to play in the AHL All-Star Classic this season.
“That was a ton of fun,” he said. “It was an awesome experience and it was an honor to be able to go. It was one of my goals at the beginning of the year. I got to hang out with some guys who I had played against before. I got a chance to make some new friends, which was cool. I’m glad that [Reign forward Brent Sutter] was there with me, too, that I could share the experience with him.”
“It’s just a small accomplishment, a little goal,” he added. “Obviously, the main goal is to play up with L.A. But those little steps that are going to help me get better every day are some of the things that are going to help me get there. So it was nice to reach that goal. But it just means that there’s a lot more work to come before I can reach the next level.”
Imoo was already very familiar with Petersen, who he knew while the young netminder was still playing at Notre Dame. But he admitted that he was a bit surprised by Petersen’s ability to move across his crease.
“One thing that I’m really impressed with is that once he’s on his knees, he has a great ability to drive and slide to second opportunities,” he noted. “Guys think they have him beaten, but somehow, he gets a leg on the puck. He’s very good laterally, that way.”
Petersen has been steady and solid all season long. But he is in his first professional season and still has a lot to work on.
“Probably the biggest thing is in the zone,” he said. “In the pro game, there’s so much more traffic. There’s so many more things going on in front of you and guys are able to make more plays—being able to stay on your skates and edges is huge—there’s an emphasis on skating.”
“I’ve also been working on getting a good read on the puck, even when there’s traffic in front, and having the patience to wait for a clear opportunity to step [away] from traffic to be able to get a read on a shot,” he added. “That’s really paid off. Battling in traffic is hard for any goalie. But the improvements that we’ve made have allowed me to be a lot more confident in those situations.”
“The biggest thing for me has been the improvements I’ve made in playing with traffic in front. Dusty has really helped take me to the next level on that. That was a strength in college, but it’s becoming a big strength, where I have confidence, even when other teams put a lot of people in front of me, which is something that gets tougher in the NHL, so it’s good to build that foundation. Just looking at things from how I was in college to where I am now, that’s probably the biggest thing. That’s allowed me to have some success in the crease.”
Indeed, at the NHL level, goaltenders must be able to establish their crease and that takes strength. At 6-2, 182 pounds, Petersen could probably use some additional muscle on his frame. But Imoo isn’t too concerned about that.
“I don’t think it is [an issue for him],” said Imoo. “He works really hard and he knows that I like strong, athletic goalies, and that I’m a firm believer in that—just because you’re the goalie doesn’t mean that you have to get in the gym. That can only help, and he does that. I don’t tell him that he has to be Jonathan Quick. Just be himself. If he can get stronger than he was last year, then he’s done a good job. I have no worries at all [about him getting] stronger and [being]ready to make that step.”
As Imoo alluded to, Petersen said that adding strength is something that he works on every summer.
“I can definitely get stronger,” he said. “That’s something I’ve worked on every summer. But I think I’m holding my own, physically. I’m managing. You have to be able to establish your crease, so any time I can add mass and strength so I don’t get pushed out of the net, or into it, is important.”
“You have a lot more guys bumping into you, so you have to establish your crease, which is something that’s [a lot more difficult in the AHL than it is [in college],” he added. “Every game, I’m trying to gain that experience, trying to get better in those situations.”
“It’s definitely been a challenge with bigger, stronger guys in front of me. I think I’m fortunate to have a very good defensive corps in front of me. That makes it easier on me, because I don’t always have to physically battle with those players all the time, trying to get a visual attachment to the puck.”
Like so many players coming out of college hockey, where they play only on weekends and in a much shorter season than the 82-game NHL season, endurance and stamina have been a bit of a challenge for Petersen.
“It’s an every-day league,” he noted. “You have to bring your best every day and every night. Sometimes, in college, you can get on a team and they’ll take their foot off the gas, a little bit.”
But Imoo noted that Petersen’s stamina has been a pleasant surprise.
“If you look at him, body-wise, that was a concern—that he was going to have to get stronger,” he said. “We thought he would only be able to handle about half the games. But I learned that he’s got a lot more in the tank than anybody gave him credit for.”
“I already knew him and his personality,” he added. “I knew his skill set. The one thing I didn’t know was his stamina and his ability to work hard in practices, right through. It’s unbelievable.”
Maintaining his intensity and focus has also been a bit of a challenge for Petersen, coming out of college hockey.
“In the pro game, no team is ever out of it,” he observed. “Regardless of the score, the guys on the other side are pressing just as hard. It’s probably been the biggest thing for me—putting in a full, 60-minute effort—not being able to take a breather, but keep a mentality and focus throughout the game, because anything can happen. That’s been my biggest challenge or difference coming from the college game.”
One area where Petersen is ahead of the game, in terms of his development, is a big one: maturity.
“I just see him as a great kid, a great learner,” Imoo noted. “Lots of talent. Of course, there are lots of goalies with talent. But I think there’s something special about Cal. One thing he has already is an NHL demeanor. He doesn’t get hung up on anything. It’s very exciting and encouraging for me because that is often the X factor that seems to ‘kill’ a lot of guys.”
“It’s huge, because lots of guys are talented and skilled,” Imoo added. “They do well in the AHL, but when they get up to the NHL, it’s the spotlight and the pressure of every goal, every game. Sometimes, it’s a bit much—the media—everything is amplified. Guys sometimes have trouble handling that, but when you have a kid who already has that maturity, you don’t have to teach that and constantly be on them about their maturity. That’s pretty exciting.”
“Every kid wants to play in the NHL. I don’t think that’s going to be a terribly big challenge for him because he’s already got that demeanor. The more he figures out that he’s got that down, and he feels like he’s ready, then he can just keep doing what he’s doing and not worry about when his shot is going to come.”
As good a season as he’s had this year, and even with maturity that belies his young age, Petersen noted that his work with Imoo has been a huge factor. This comes as no surprise, given that goaltender coaching was the biggest factor in his decision to sign with the Kings.
“I was talking to my family and my advisor, and I said that I think the improvements and steps I’ve taken this year are the biggest that I’ve made in any year of my career,” he emphasized. “A lot of that is because of the ways Dusty has identified ways I can get better.”
“They’re things that resonate with me,” he added. “He’s able to understand my game and bring it to the next level. [The coaching has] been awesome. It’s been even better than what I thought it would be before.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings goaltending prospect Cal Petersen, shown here during the Kings 2017 Rookie Camp at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California on September 8, 2017. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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