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Hockey

Cale Morris’ unexpected emergence lifts Irish to Frozen Four

| Thursday, April 5, 2018

Heading into the 2017-2018 season after falling to Denver in the Frozen Four, things weren’t necessarily looking up for the Irish. Soon after the squad’s season ended, star junior goaltender Cal Petersen, a crucial element of Notre Dame’s success in the 2016-2017 season, announced his intention to go pro.

Petersen proved himself a top goalie in the Hockey East conference during his junior season. He finished with a .926 save percentage — which ranked 11th in the nation — 2.22 goals against average, and six shutouts, which tied him for the national lead. His absence left Notre Dame with a sizable hole to fill in net while the Irish had to adjust to a new conference in the 2017-2018 season. Luckily for Notre Dame, sophomore Cale Morris was primed for success.

Mackenzi Marinovich | The Observer

Irish sophomore Cale Morris follows the puck in Notre Dame’s 4-2 win over Wisconsin at Purcell Pavilion on Jan. 19. Morris leads the nation in numerous statistical categories this season.

That being said, Morris wasn’t the clear starter heading into this season. With the starting goaltender position wide open, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson had his three young candidates — freshman Dylan St. Cyr, freshman Nick Sanford and Morris — compete for the job. When asked before the start of the season who would be in goal for the Irish, Jackson was unsure.

“I think we got a real battle going on,” Jackson said at the beginning of the year. “Dylan was out for a little while … he’s back now at full strength. But, I mean, we brought him in to compete with Cale. I think both goaltenders are capable and it is going to be a matter of who performs at this point. The one thing we have to understand is the both of them don’t have much experience at the college level … so it’s going to be a matter of who grows into that position sooner.”

Fast forward to the eve of Notre Dame’s Frozen Four matchup, and things are crystal clear for the Irish in net. Morris now leads the nation in save percentage (.945), wins (24), and saves (1,144). He sits sixth nationally in goals against average (1.91) and third nationally in win percentage (.757). He’s achieved a number of honors, including the Big Ten tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award and has made the NCAA East Regional All-Regional Team. He has undoubtedly been the driving force behind Notre Dame’s success this season, leading them to a 16-game winning streak, a Big Ten championship, and a Frozen Four berth.

Heading into the season, Morris knew the starting position was open, and he knew he would need to battle for it. Morris simply set a goal for himself: to get better each day.  

I knew coming in nothing was going to be handed and two awesome freshman goalies were coming in as well, and it would be a great environment for us to all battle and compete and push each other,” Morris said. “And we all kind of knew that the starting position was open there. So it was a good [competition] to start the year, and we still battle everyday. … I was just coming in with the mindset to get better each day and push myself and challenge myself to compete with myself.”

Through the success Morris has had this season, he has been appreciative of his teammates — especially his former teammate Cal Petersen, who Morris knew even before committing to Notre Dame.

“Sitting in behind Cal Petersen at World Class Goalie Camp, I knew it was going to be a great opportunity for me to soak in as much knowledge about the game on and off the ice,” Morris said. “I think I developed as much on the ice as off the ice learning from him as being the captain as well, so he definitely took me under his wing. And going into this year, I knew that I would have a great opportunity to battle for the starting position with the two freshmen coming in, and that it would be a healthy competition for all of us, and we all push each other each day. So it’s been a great ride so far.”

On top of the accolades and success, Morris’ meticulous focus has been admirable. When asked about the 16-game win streak, of which he was an integral part, Morris expressed that his concern remained with preparation for a championship.

“I think definitely throughout the 16-game win streak it wasn’t more about the streak, it was more just about coming to the rink every day with the mindset of getting better and sticking to the process,” he said. “It was awesome to get those results done, but I think the bigger picture was just preparing ourselves for kind of the final test, final weekend that we’re here at.”

Jackson, who even admitted he was unsure if Morris would play at the level he’s displayed this year, lauded his goaltender’s performance and attitude this season.

“We recruited Cale to be our heir-apparent to Cal two years ago,” Jackson said. “I’m not sure that I expected him to play at the level he’s playing at this year, but all the credit goes to him, because if it wasn’t for last year I’m not sure where he would be this year. I’m talking about, in today’s game, with teenagers or young men, it’s like if they’re not playing, they’re usually not happy and they’re not fun to be around. But Cale was awesome last year — his attitude, his work ethic. I mean, he’s getting what he earned. I think because he had the right mindset, the right attitude.”

It is clear that Morris’s excellence in net this season was crucial to Notre Dame’s Frozen Four berth, and he will continue to play a major role as the Irish vie for a national title this weekend.

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