|Who: Notre Dame (14-15-5) vs. No. 10 Boston College (19-10-3)
When: 7:35 p.m. ET tonight; 6:05 p.m. ET Saturday
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena; South Bend, Ind. (5,022)
|Radio: 99.9 FM (WHFB)
TV: NBC Sports Network (both nights)
Cal Petersen has rebuilt his confidence, a renovation project that began last November.
That’s when the Irish freshman goaltender made 39 saves in a 5-0 loss at Minnesota and followed it by getting pulled in the first period the next night after allowing three more goals on just nine shots in an eventual 4-2 loss.
Minnesota’s seemingly perpetual string of odd-man rushes didn’t help, leaving Petersen with a crisis of confidence as he returned to South Bend. But Petersen is a player restored in recent weeks, with Notre Dame surging toward the postseason.
“It hurt him when we played Minnesota,” Jackson said. “We had several. He got backdoored several times. That’s not how we play the game. Irish hockey is about denying odd-man rush situations because they really come from turnovers and not having a good third man or not being responsible to cover for a teammate. We weren’t doing those things very well the first part of the year.”
It’s no surprise the goalie’s form and the rest of the program’s play have improved at the same time.
Notre Dame (14-15-5, 9-6-5 Hockey East) is 3-1-1 in its last five games, all Petersen starts, with No. 10 Boston College coming to the Compton Family Ice Arena this weekend for the final regular season series.
Petersen has put together a .958 save percentage and is allowing just 1.60 goals per game since starting for Chad Katunar on Feb. 7 at Maine.
Hockey East named Petersen its defensive player of the week for his effort at Maine and two weeks ago against Providence, when he engineered a 38-save shutout. This week Petersen was named league player of the week after making 78 saves in two games as the Irish took three of four points at conference leader Boston University last weekend.
Needless to say, it’s not gone unnoticed by teammates either.
“He works hard,” said captain Robbie Russo. “He never changed his work ethic. I think he kinda just stuck to it. He knows he’s a good goalie. He’s a big guy, moves well. He kinda stuck to what he was doing. He’s a freshman and right now he’s not playing like a freshman at all. Everyone expected him to be a good goalie, so that probably put a little pressure on him. But he’s definitely risen to the occasion.”
Petersen has morphed into one of the best shot stoppers in Hockey East. He ranks second in league games with a .932 save percentage, trailing only Providence goalie John Gillies (.942). He’s fourth with a 2.14 goals-against average.
Teammates plan to keep Petersen in that form.
“As much as we trust him and know he’s gonna come up with huge saves, we don’t want to put him in that position,” said forward Peter Schneider. “We’ve talked about that a lot. We want to protect our goalie. We know he’s there if we need him to be and if we make mistakes. But we don’t wanna put him in that position.”
Last week Jackson thought he might be without veteran forwards Steven Fogarty and Austin Wuthrich as both recovered from upper body injuries.
Instead, both made the lineup against Boston University, forming a fourth line along with Ali Thomas. Jackson plans to keep that line in tact moving into the Boston College series with Fogarty at his usual center spot.
“They gave us more depth than we’ve had all season,” Jackson said. “We actually had four lines I had no problem putting on the ice, which actually worked to our advantage in some ways because it’s easier for us to play the way we play. We may not have all our scoring depth on two lines but if we get scoring by committee and get production out of our power play then that’s good.”
Notre Dame enters the Boston College series in a three-way tie for third place in Hockey East with 23 points. That matches the point totals of Providence and UMass-Lowell.
Boston University has clinched a share of the regular season title and first round playoff bye with 29 points. Boston College (19-10-3, 11-6-3 Hockey East) sits in second place with 25 points and a theoretical shot at sharing the regular season title. That would require the Eagles to sweep the two-game series in South Bend while Boston University would need to lose both ends of its home-and-home series with Northeastern.
Below the three-way tie for third sits Northeastern and Vermont, each with 22 points. Vermont finishes the season with a two-game series at UMass-Lowell.
“All we can do is worry about Friday night right now,” Jackson said. “At least with last weekend we put ourselves back in our own control to at least have a chance to finish in the top four of the conference. But it doesn’t matter if we don’t win Friday. That’s all that matters.”
The top four get a first round bye in the playoffs and home-ice advantage in the quarterfinals.
“It’s twofold,” Jackson said. “It’s about getting healthy and it’s also about one less step that we have to have to get to Boston Garden. Regardless, it’s never easy. I don’t care if you’re playing at home or on the road, it’s never easy in this league. We need to put ourselves in the best possible position to get back to Boston.”