It was time for Cal Petersen to move up. He proved his skill level during the 2017-18 season. He proved his mettle, maintaining a positive outlook during a trying 2018-19 season. And he proved that he is a leader, capable of carrying a young team on and off the ice during the 2019-20 season.
And now, as the calendar flips to February, Petersen has earned the callup to the LA Kings, with nothing left to prove in the American Hockey League.
Petersen’s moment comes as two great people depart the Kings organization, in Kyle Clifford and Jack Campbell, as Ontario Reign Head coach Mike Stothers was quick to point out, when asked about Petersen’s recall.
“It’s awesome, it’s a great feeling for everybody in the organization to see a guy develop and get the call, but it’s at the expense of two really good people in the organization, let’s not forget that,” Stothers said. “What Kyle Clifford’s done for the Kings, and [Campbell], in a shorter amount of time, and [Campbell] developed through the organization as well.”
When it comes to Petersen, however, Stothers didn’t hold back his admiration for what the 25-year-old goaltender has meant to the Ontario Reign over the past two and a half seasons.
“I’m happy for everybody, but I’m extremely thrilled for Cal and the time that he’s put in here, what he’s done for us and what he’s meant to our team,” Stothers said. “It’s going to be a big loss. You can say what you want about what he does in the net, and the number of shots he faces, but it’s what he brings to the locker room and what he brings to the team off the ice, in the travel, the buses, the hotels, just being a great teammate and a great leader. Not an easy thing to replace.”
As Stothers put it, it’s not only about what Petersen brings between the pipes on a nightly basis, it’s also about his leadership qualities. Stothers admitted before the season that he would give Petersen a letter if he could.
“I think that much of him as a person and I know his teammates do the same. He is a natural leader.”
Petersen wore the “C” at Notre Dame during his junior season with the Fighting Irish, and was a part of the Reign’s six-man leadership group this season. When he didn’t make Kings lineup at the start the season, Petersen looked at being assigned to Ontario as a chance to work on developing as a leader, contributing to a young group beyond just on the ice.
“I thought [being a leader] was something I could take advantage of and it would be a big opportunity,” Petersen said. “I had some great leaders when I first came into the league and for a lot of these young guys, it’s a big step. If you have a good, solid group of guys who are in a leadership position, who can make everybody feel welcome and help everybody reach their potential, there’s a great opportunity.”
Petersen’s leadership and performances have been extremely impactful on his Reign goaltending partner, Matthew Villalta, who now takes the reigns in the AHL, alongside veteran Kevin Poulin.
The 20-year-old Villalta and Petersen were a tandem for much of the season in the AHL, and having Petersen alongside him for the first half of his rookie season has made Villalta that much more prepared to take over.
“Seeing how he prepares was a really good eye-opener for me,” Villalta said. “In practice, seeing how hard he works, how much detail he puts into his practices and everything he does. I really took notice of that, and I try to apply all that stuff to what I do in practice and games as well.”
Petersen’s entire body of work – the standout performances, the tireless work ethic, the off-ice leadership – made now the right moment for the Kings to give him his first look of the season.
“It’s time to get him games in the NHL,” Kings General Manager Rob Blake said on Thursday. “He’s done what we had expected in the American League. So, if we project him to be the starter in a few years, he’s now going to learn from a Hall of Famer in Jonathan Quick, the competitive nature and how he prepares every day.”
The Kings have a plan in place that focuses on building the team for seasons to come, and upcoming moves will reflect that. The timing of this trade, and advancing Petersen to the NHL, makes sense when viewed through that lens. Wednesday’s trade was the first of the month for the Kings, but it likely won’t be the last for an organization that is focused on the future.
Not only do the Kings pick up a pair of draft picks to add to their arsenal, but Petersen will now get two months of playing time in the NHL to adjust before next season.
“We understand where we want to go with him, we want him to learn from Jonathan Quick, and Jonathan’s going to push him every day because he’s so competitive,” Blake added. “So that, going forward, kind of solidifies what we’re going to do for the next few years, but we felt a need to get Cal in games this year. We had to get a look at him and get him growing into that role.”
Though the crest on his jersey is different, the arenas will be larger and stage is brighter, it will be business as usual for Petersen. As he approaches his first NHL start of the 2019-20 season, Petersen is approaching things with his usual calm, cool and collected demeanor, that made him one top goaltenders in the AHL.
“Just carry the same things that made me successful [with Ontario] and making sure it translates,” Petersen said. “I’m pretty excited for the opportunity.”