Who: No. 10 Notre Dame (14-5-7) at Vermont (11-14-2)
When: 7:05 p.m. tonight; 7:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: Gutterson Fieldhouse; Burlington, Vt. (4,035)
Radio: 99.9 FM (WHFB)
Cal Petersen came to Notre Dame in hopes of shouldering the entire goaltending load.
Safe to say, his sophomore season hasn’t disappointed. No goalie in the country has logged more ice time than Petersen. He leads that category nationally with 1,568 minutes and 19 seconds while starting all 26 games.
Only five goalies have crossed the 1,500-minute mark. Charlie Lindgren at St. Cloud State is closest at 1,562 minutes and 24 seconds.
Needless to say, Petersen isn’t complaining.
“It's been great,” he said. “For me it’s the position that I want to be in. I love playing every game. I like being the guy that’s called on every night. I think that’s helped my confidence a lot. I think the team knows what they’re gonna get out of me every night, which is a good thing on their end. I’m able to build a good relationship with my defense and I think the cohesiveness with that has worked out really well.”
And up to this point his form hasn’t suffered.
Petersen is top 25 nationally in both goals-against average (2.22) and save percentage (.926). Those numbers climbed after a sterling January during which Petersen went 5-1-3 while allowing just 1.89 goals per game with a .940 save percentage.
He grabbed Hockey East goaltender of the month honors as a result. It’s no coincidence the Irish went on a 12-game unbeaten streak and climbed in the top 10 in the national polls before losing to Boston College last week as their goalie stepped forward with a higher level of play.
“What I like to see is the streak we were on and it’s translating into wins,” Petersen said. “I’m also not facing 40 to 50 shots a night like I was at the end of last year. I’m sure I’m gonna get one of those games every now and again, which is nice. But for me the biggest and most important thing is the win column and getting points on the board. Whether that’s winning 5-4, 2-0 or 1-0, that’s all the same to me.”
Head coach Jeff Jackson believes that even as good as Petersen has been, there’s more in the tank.
Past Notre Dame goaltenders have had similar regimens when they’ve ascended into a full-time starter’s role. Jackson sees it as necessary maintenance.
“I made the conscious decision at the beginning of the year that I’m gonna run with him,” Jackson said. “I’ve done that with other goaltenders too. He’s been spotted out of there a few times when we were behind or up big but not much. I’ve picked spots where we’ll do a goalie session and I’ll kick him off the ice for practice.
“Or maybe there’s a day where we give the guys a fun day. He doesn’t need to be on the ice for a fun day. That’s all backdoors and breakaways and four-on-four stuff. He doesn’t need to be out there for that.”
Petersen wasn’t so keen on being off the ice at first, mostly for the sake of appearances. But results tend to speak for themselves.
“Naturally, I didn’t want it to appear to the guys that I was getting a day off or asking for a day off and what not,” Petersen said. “I kind of was a little bit resistant to that at the beginning. But once I saw the effects of being able to be off, I saw it as being at a little bit higher level for the games. As long as those pay off during the weekend and they translate into wins, it’s a positive for everybody.
“I would never want it to get to the point where I wasn’t producing on the ice or what not that it appeared to everyone I was getting a day off or special treatment. (Jackson) made it clear that it’s strategic. It’s not a privilege or anything. It’s just to make sure I’m at my best.”
Surging Vermont awaits in Hockey East series
Petersen will lead No. 10 Notre Dame into a two-game Hockey East series at Vermont this weekend.
Notre Dame is holding onto third place in the league with 22 points in 14 games. Boston College is out front with 24 points in 15 games with Massachusetts-Lowell on 23 points in 16 games. Providence and Boston University are fourth with 19 points.
Vermont is on 12 points but has six wins against just two losses since the holiday break. Both those defeats came to Providence the middle of last month.
“They were expected to be a top four or five team I think, if I’m not mistaken,” Jackson said. “They’ve played really well since Christmas. Their No. 1 goalie got injured and it took them some time to sort that out. They’ve got a kid that came in, a freshman, I don’t know if he came in at Christmas or not. But he’s actually given them some stability back in goal with (Mike) Santaguida, the other kid, out. I think that’s where they’ve started to get some confidence and play much better.”
Vermont has leaned on freshman goalie Packy Munson with Santaguida out through injury. Munson is 7-4-0 in the last 11 games with a 2.28 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
Boston College wake up call
Notre Dame heads into the Vermont series coming off its first loss since the end of November.
After going unbeaten in 12 games, Boston College handed out a 4-0 defeat at the Compton Family Ice Arena last weekend. Jackson put some blame on a subpar week of practice ahead of the top 10 matchup.
Preparation this week, on the other hand, has been improved across the board.
“For the most part it’s been good,” captain Steven Fogarty said. “Obviously, it was frustrating at the time. But games like that, there’s a little bit of a wakeup call. You’ve got to give them credit too. They’re one of the top teams in the country. But I think the response has been good. We kinda just wiped the slate clean and get off where we started. I think we’re excited for this weekend. We’ve had a good couple days of practice.”
Notre Dame now wades into the home stretch of the schedule — two games at Vermont, a home series against Maine, and a road trip to No. 6 Providence then the final series of the regular season against No. 9 Boston University back home again.
Taking a look at the standings is part of this time of year, although Jackson sees a recent bad loss as a good way to get everyone re-engaged.
“We have to take advantage of every weekend and every game that we can because in reality you’ve got five teams right now that are all clumped up for the top four spots,” Jackson said. “Somebody’s not making it to the top four and, frankly, finishing in fifth won’t be pretty either because even if you win your first round you’re gonna end up playing a high quality team. Even if you’re at home, if you finish fourth, you’re gonna be playing a high quality team.
You wanna try to win as many points as you can. You want to finish as high as you can. You want to win a conference championship or you want to finish in second place. The higher you finish, it gives you the advantage of playing at home. It gives you the advantage of a bye. It gives you the advantage of last change.”