Playing for Pride

Cal Petersen Made The Most Of His Opportunity To Backstop The U.S. On International Stage
Kyle Huson

When Cal Petersen and the Los Angeles Kings take the ice at the beginning of the season, the goal is always to make the playoffs. As the season wound down and it seemed that goal would fall a tad short, Petersen began hoping to have a chance to play for another championship. 

That call came, and Petersen hopped on a flight to Riga, Latvia, to compete at the 2021 IIHF Men's World Championship.

"It's been awesome. It's some of the most fun I've had playing hockey," the goaltender from Waterloo, Iowa said about his experience playing for the 2021 U.S. Men's National Team.

"Any time you have the opportunity to wear the USA colors, especially at the World Championships, it's a no-brainer for me."

Petersen had previously donned the red, white and blue at the 2017 World Championship, but did not see any game action. So this year was his first opportunity to make an impact on the ice for his country, and he certainly made the most of that. He recorded his first international shutout against Kazakhstan, a 3-0 victory, on May 27, and added his second against Germany on May 31. His most important wins came in a pair of 6-1 victories over Slovakia in the semifinals and against Germany to help the U.S. take home a bronze medal.

"Being able to win games and put ourselves in a good position for a shot at the gold is what we want, so it's been awesome," said Petersen, who led all goalies in the tournament with a .953 save percentage and 1.29 goals-against average.

What makes it even more special for Petersen is not only being able to represent the country on the ice, but represent his family that served in the armed forces. When Petersen talks about his grandfather, among other members in his family, it makes him even more proud to wear the USA crest.

"It's been everything. It adds another level of pride. You're playing for something bigger than yourself, bigger than your own personal pride," he said.

"Winning on Memorial Day was special. I was texting with my family and other relatives and they said my grandfather would obviously be super proud as would my other relatives that have served. We're playing hockey and that's not nearly as important as the sacrifice of serving. But I think you pay sort of that same respect to the people have come before you and that have worn these colors and have given you the opportunity to play hockey and follow your dreams."

Petersen's journey to where he is today is unique to say the least. As a youth player from Iowa,  he grew up watching the local USHL team, the Waterloo Blackhawks, a team that he would eventually play for. 

He started out as both a forward and a defenseman, but like many goaltenders, was drawn to how cool the goalie equipment looked. The right-handed catcher suited up in net and never looked back. He began to get better and better, which in turn required more sacrifice from his family, who would routinely make six-hour round-trip drives to his practice for his youth team.

"There was a lot of sacrifice for my family," Petersen said. "I played youth hockey in Waterloo and then played for a couple years in Minnesota and Wisconsin before coming back to Waterloo...I then went to Chicago for a couple of years.

"Huge sacrifice for my family, and that's one of the big reasons I want to honor them by my effort and what I can do. I think it's only right that I take it as far as I can."

That journey eventually led him to the University of Notre Dame, where he started every game he played, and eventually landed him with the Kings. Now in his fourth professional season and third with the big club, Petersen has had the opportunity to learn from one of the greatest American goaltenders of all time in Jonathan Quick.

"He's a legend. The kind of success that he has had is something that I can only strive to achieve someday," Petersen said. "I realize how competitive he is and how great of a teammate he is. He has a leadership aspect that I strive to kind of do.

"Just watching him play such a unique style, I feel like I've added a new level of athleticism trying to do the stuff that he does on a regular basis. It's helped me make some saves that previously I wouldn't have been able to make."

Petersen was joined on this year's U.S. squad by Jake Oettinger of the Dallas Stars and Drew Commesso of Boston University, who replaced Anthony Stolarz, who suffered an injury early in the tournament. The trio are just three of the many U.S.-born goaltenders that are making their mark in the scope of goaltending. 

Petersen saw the success of fellow Americans including Spencer Knight (Florida Panthers), Jack Campbell (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Jeremy Swayman (Boston Bruins), and is excited about the state of goaltending in the United States.

"I think it's tremendous," he said. "I was actually just thinking about it the other day, all of the American goalies that are getting their first chance in the NHL. I think it's awesome and a testament to the college route. I know I benefited from that being a little bit of a later goalie. Especially for American goalies, and I hope there are more to come."

As other young goaltenders watch the World Championship, they may be studying what Petersen does, similar to what he did with Jonathan Quick. And one thing that these young goaltenders will notice is the medal around Petersen's neck.

"We put ourselves in the best position to win gold," said Petersen, who was named the tournament's top goaltender.

 "I think we realized that we had a really special group, and we wanted to end this thing on the right note and we deserved to end it on the right note. Everybody showed up [in the bronze medal game]. It shows a lot about the guys here. It shows a lot about the guys that USA Hockey selects. I'm extremely proud to wear this medal and be a part of this team. It's something I am going to remember for the rest of my life." 



Kyle Huson is the digital content coordinator at USA Hockey.




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