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Petersen leads ND into postseason

| Thursday, March 5, 2015

A month ago, Notre Dame’s goaltending situation was anything but clear.

Both freshman Cal Petersen and sophomore Chad Katunar had looks at the job, but neither staked a solid claim for more than a couple games for the Irish (15-16-5, 10-7-5 Hockey East).

Then came Notre Dame’s Feb. 6 trip to Maine. After Katunar surrendered four goals in two periods, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson turned to Petersen for the third.

The freshman seized the job and has since skated away with it, making 279 saves on 290 shots in the month of February.

“I’m really starting to figure things out,” Petersen said. “Obviously, the team’s been playing a lot better, and I’m not really seeing those high-opportunity chances, those odd-man rushes. … I got used to the strength and the size of the players and the different ways that scoring opportunities arise and just trying to evolve with each game.”

Petersen’s uptick in form accompanies one from the Irish on the whole — they’ve gone 4-2-1 in Petersen’s last seven starts and 5-2-2 overall in their last nine games.

“The team’s been playing really well and I guess an opportunity arose to go in and be able to help the team win,” Petersen said.

In a 3-2 win over then-No. 2 Boston University on Feb. 21, Petersen turned in a masterpiece. He made 44 saves on 46 shots and helped the Irish prevent the Terriers (21-7-5, 14-5-3) from clinching the Hockey East regular-season crown.

Saturday, with the Irish jostling for playoff positioning on the final day of the regular season, Petersen made 55 saves in a 3-1 win over No. 9 Boston College, the most by a Notre Dame goaltender in 26 years. The freshman goalie, however, gave the credit to his defense.

“[It was] a lot of shots on the scoreboard, but it’d be easy to say that for a majority of those BC was just trying to get a lot of shots on net, trying to create rebounds,” Petersen said. “As a team we did a really good job of keeping things in front of me.”

Notre Dame’s late run — including wins over the Terriers, Eagles and No. 10 Providence — thrusted the Irish into the fifth seed for the Hockey East tournament. The placement means they’ll host 12th-seeded Massachusetts this weekend in a best-of-three series starting Friday at Compton Family Ice Arena.

In the teams’ two meetings this year in Amherst, Massachusetts, Notre Dame blitzed the Minutemen (10-21-2, 5-16-1), scoring 11 goals in two games to take the series sweep.

Petersen said he doesn’t expect this time to be as easy though.

“The main thing that I’m looking at is that play amps up come playoff time,” Petersen said. “It’s do or die, and I expect the UMass team to be a completely different team than they were when we faced off around Christmas time.”

While it’s the first time in the playoffs at the collegiate level for Notre Dame’s new star, it’s not his first go around in a postseason. While playing junior hockey with the Waterloo Blackhawks last year, Petersen led his team to the United States Hockey League (USHL) Clark Cup Finals, an experience he said he can draw from.

“This format is basically just like the USHL playoffs, except that USHL playoffs it’s a best-of-five, but this is really the same situation that we were in last year with Waterloo,” Petersen said. “We were the first seed in the Western Conference and playing the fourth seed and they were a fantastic team, just as UMass is. There are a lot of similarities that hopefully I can take and put into play.”

He said in the big picture the Irish are staying within their routine heading into postseason play.

“I don’t think we’re changing anything going into this week,” Petersen said. “It’s a bit of heightened sense of expectation coming into the weekend.”

Petersen said the turning point of his season — which lines up nicely with that of the Irish season as a whole — came over the team’s break in December.

“We got a break right before Christmas and I was able to go home and reset,” he said. “ … I was able to sit down with coach and analyze the first half and how it went and to set goals for the second half. I made sure that I made a point that I wanted to be the guy in the second half and carry the team and be a large part of either the success or failure of the team.”

With the way the newly-christened Hockey East Goaltender of the Month is playing, it’s easy to argue the freshman is on his way to achieving that goal.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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