International Ice Hockey Federation

Every moment matters

Every moment matters

Cal Petersen’s route is anything but ordinary

Published 05.05.2017 18:08 GMT+2 | Author Ryan O'Leary
Every moment matters
Cal Petersen at the portrait shot at his first-ever IIHF tournament. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
He still has a Martin Brodeur fathead poster in his childhood bedroom and considers the legendary goaltender his “goalie crush.”

And according to his dad Eric, the NHL and elite hockey have always been the plan for Cal Petersen.

The junior Notre Dame goaltender hails from Iowa, a non-traditional hockey state, which made ice time and competition options limited growing up.

“Early on I got the sense that he was willing to put up with a lot to chase a dream, said Eric.

“I saw a drive and commitment that was uncommon for kids his age.”

“He told me early on that he wanted to play in the NHL, win multiple Stanley Cups and win the Vezina Trophy,” Petersen laughed.

Cal’s drive and talents made him stand out from the other kids he played against in Iowa, but a lack of elite teams in the area created a problem for the Petersens.

Where should Cal play that provided a challenge and growth opportunity?

In sixth grade he was scouted to play travel hockey, a good thing for Cal, but the team was located in Minneapolis, a three-and-a-half hour drive from the family’s home in Waterloo.

So three days a week, Eric would pick Cal up from school at 3:15 p.m.. In the car he’d eat a meal his mother Mary would prepare and wrap and then get some homework done during the long traverse.

He’d practice his hardest (always one of the best players on the ice) and then it was another three-and-a-half hours home.

Those rides were reserved for sleep prior to a 2 a.m. arrival back home.

“Growing up in Iowa, we had to travel a ton, so each time I was on the ice I had to make each moment count,” Cal recounted.

On the weekends, travel took the same shape, but sometimes it included farther distances such as Chicago or Detroit for tournaments.

They did that for three, long years.

It was such an advantage growing up somewhere without ice so readily available,” Cal continued.

“It gave me a work ethic that made me relish every opportunity I got.”

By Land or Air

Besides a love of hockey, the Petersens come from a long line of aviators. Eric is an amateur pilot and put that skill to work when it came to transporting Cal to practices and games.

On some nights and weekends during this busy three years of travel, Eric would fly Cal and all of his goalie gear in a small Beechcraft single engine plane. It fits four people tightly and it fits two people and goaltender equipment even tighter.

But, taking the plane cut travel time down to an hour each way and a tank of gas only cost $60 at the most.

Cal still used the flight time to study or sleep, not much different than the car, but the time spent still meant a lot to both.

“It’s some of the fondest memories I have with my dad,” said Cal.

Eric says he was always aware of the safety concerns.

“When you’re flying with a teenager you never want any drama involved, so we did it when the weather was clear.”

“It was just a really neat experience to have with your son,” he finished.

Eric admits that the car to plane ratio was ten-to-one.

The Petersens aren’t the first to fly their kid to the rink. Carey Price’s family made the plane-to-hockey method vogue first.

When Carey was ten his dad Jerry flew him 320 km from Anahim Lake, B.C to Williams Lake where the closest hockey teams existed at the time.

As it did for the Price’s, the travel investment paid off for the Petersens.

Cal played a year of junior varsity hockey in Waterloo before being invited to play for the AAA Chicago Young Americans in the Tier 1 Elite League for his sophomore and junior years.

The entire family (including sister Annie who kindly allowed for the spotlight to shine on Cal) sacrificed to make that happen including renting a foreclosed house the first year. His dad, mom and aunt would rotate days being with Cal so he could have a guardian and a shot to play in one of the best leagues available for his age group.

The first year was hard, but it worked. The second year was not so fortunate.

Cal lived with another player for one month, then the family spent six weeks in and out of hotels, before thankfully finding a four-month condo rental to finish off the year.

“It wasn’t very sustainable,” said Eric. “But somehow we made it work.”

It wasn’t the most pleasant experience, but at each turn Cal learned a valuable lesson.

“Make the most every minute on the ice,” he said.

That’s what he learned and in doing so, he continued to excel at every level and started getting looks from big-time Division 1 schools.

His senior year of high school was much more local. The Waterloo Blackhawks, his hometown USHL team, drafted Cal and he decided to finish where it all began.

His time was spent studying at his local high school while starring for the Blackhawks on the ice.

It was Cal’s swan song in terms of youth hockey and looking back on hectic seven years that had passed, Cal knows he can never repay his family.

“Its something where I can never repay them,” Cal admitted.

“The best I can do is make every second count and work hard at each opportunity given to me.”

You’ll Get What You Earn Here

By the time Cal was being recruited to play collegiate hockey, he had offers from plenty of powerhouse programs with a lot to offer.

If you’ve gathered anything about Cal or the family, they don’t do anything flippantly. Decisions are made with a purpose.

Make the most of everything. Be dedicated. Right.

So, you might find it a little strange that it only took Cal about five minutes to choose Notre Dame after touring the campus his senior year of high school.

“He had some other outstanding offers from school that have recently won national championships,” Eric said of the recruitment process.

As Eric tells it, Cal toured the campus, was in awe of its NHL-quality facilities and told his dad in the parking lot at the end of the day that he was going to play his college hockey at Notre Dame.

That meant he cancelled other scheduled official visits to other schools.

“It’s an extraordinary place from an athletics perspective and the resources they offer to student athletes are without compare.”

Eric admits that Cal selected Notre Dame because it was also in line with those lofty NHL goals his son laid out early in life.

The decision to have Cal tend goal at Notre Dame was also a no-brainer from the school’s perspective.

“He was a great fit for Notre Dame,” said head coach Jeff Jackson.

“First off, he’s a great student and second he has great character. He’s definitely proven both of those during his time here.”

But just because he was ideal for the Irish, didn’t mean he was going to start day one.

In fact, Cal started without a scholarship to the school, where tuition costs in excess of $51,000 per year, and knew he’d be competing against an established sophomore.

Coach Jackson even told him during his visit, “You’ll get what you earn here.”

Jackson says that within half of the season, Cal had become the clear-cut starter due to his talent and devotion to his motto of making every moment count.

“He’s very engaged in the process,” said Jackson. “He’s very coachable and has a strong will to become the best goaltender he can.”

Since that moment, Cal has played every minute between the pipes for Notre Dame - that’s 90 straight starts for the Irish iron-man, the fourth-longest streak in NCAA history.

Oh, and he also got that full-ride scholarship.

“He’s earned everything he’s gotten since then which means he’s played every night,” said Jackson.

Petersen also earned the respect of his teammates, being named captain of the Notre Dame Fight Irish this season.

Last year he was the only goalie in all of Division 1 hockey to serve as team captain.

Petersen’s lists of accomplishments are long, but this season he led the Irish to their third Frozen Four appearance in program history.

He ranks first in career save percentage (92.4) at Notre Dame, second in minutes played (6498:02) and third in saves (3,042).

Petersen also holds the NCAA Division 1 record with 87 saves in a single game, something he did as a freshman playing 151:42 minutes in the longest collegiate hockey game ever played. It was a 4-3 five-overtime loss to UMass.

For his dad, the Notre Dame experience is hard to quantify.

“It has far exceeded anything I thought he’d get out of the college experience,” Eric said.

What Notre dame did was take someone who had the desire and ambition and made that product better. That’s all you can hope for out of a college situation.”

Cal agrees, but has a more laser-focused analysis of his three years with the Fighting Irish.

“You just want to be the very best at every level and now Notre Dame has prepared me to be ready for the World Championship and the NHL.”

Learning From the Best

Standing outside of his Innovation In Design class at Notre Dame just a week after a tough loss to Denver in the NCAA’s Frozen Four, Cal Petersen received a call from USA Hockey general manager Jim Johansson.

Team USA wanted Cal to play at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

The insightful Petersen had an inkling this might happen. Petersen had paid attention to the inclusion of college players on the U.S. roster in previous years. Boston College goaltender Thatcher Demko highlighted six collegians on the U.S. roster last year.

The previous year it was Jack Eichel and Dylan Larkin cutting their teeth at the World Championship.

“It was definitely a goal going into the season after seeing other college players do it before me,” said Cal

“I just wanted to make sure I put myself in position to get that call”

Coach Jackson wasn’t surprised either – he knows Petersen has positioned himself nicely for this tournament and a future with USA Hockey.

“I think he’s worthy of this opportunity,” Jackson began. “He’s done everything in his power to make himself one of the top goaltenders in the country for his age.”

Eric says the invite could not have come at a better time. Notre Dame had much higher expectations in the NCAA tournament, but a lopsided 6-1 loss to Denver in semi-final left a bitter taste in Cal’s mouth.

Giving up half-a-dozen goals on the doorstep of the National Championship was hard to erase from memory, but Eric says the Team USA call helped to change Cal’s focus.

“I’m overjoyed particularly if you look at the timing of it,” Eric shared. “This invitation lifted his spirit and now he can focus on the World Championships.”

Petersen has represented the U.S. in other tournaments, including the 2012 Hlinka Tournament in Slovakia and the 2014 U-19 WJAC.

But, this is the biggest and most important assignment he’s received from the Stars and Stripes. He’ll be playing on a team loaded with young talent and alongside two seasoned NHL and international goaltenders in Jimmy Howard and Connor Hellebuyck.

“Any chance I get to wear the red, white and blue is great, and I want to take full advantage of it,” said Cal.

Just like every other stage in his life, Cal is planning to soak every ounce out of his experience.

“I’m definitely taking it as a chance to learn from those guys – they’re definitely two of the best goalies in the NHL.”

Cal isn’t sure if he’ll return to Notre Dame for his senior season or turn pro next year and the NHL’s inclusion at the 2018 Olympics is still hazy at best. Both factors loom large for the kid selected by the Buffalo Sabres in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

He knows that an invitation like this could mean future Team USA inclusions – especially next year in Korea.

“I’ve definitely thought about it [playing in the Olympics] especially after the NHL said it wasn’t going,” Cal openly admitted. “I’m sure this will help and if it leads to the other things like the Olympics, that’d be great.”

For Coach Jackson he’s proud of Petersen’s inclusion on this star-studded roster and knows it’s a massive opportunity to take his game to the next level.

“This is like finishing school for him – a chance to learn what the pros do and apply it to his game,” Jackson began.

“The next step for Cal is to take all he’s learned and win the big game under the bright lights. The World Championship is a great opportunity for him to do that.”

There’s no telling how much playing time Cal will receive at the tournament, but he’s going to absorb all he can no matter what.

“The biggest thing is to see how the pros play and prepare. That’ll be the coolest thing, getting a glimpse into pro hockey.”

And whether he plays big minutes for Team USA or spends his time watching, his family will be there no matter what.

“As a parent it’s very difficult to put into words what an honor it is to have your son play for the United States,” Eric said introspectively.

“We’re excited to see him in Germany and hopefully they’ll play a game or two in Paris,” Eric said of his family’s plans.

Funny how trips to practice on prop plane can lead to the World Championship on a jumbo jet.


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