MANCHESTER, N.H. — In Jeff Jackson’s illustrious coaching career, which includes stops in the National Hockey League, the U.S. National Team and 18 years at the collegiate level at both Notre Dame and Lake Superior State, he’d never done it before.
Sure, Jackson had some great success with wonderful teams, including national titles with Lake Superior in 1992 and 1994, but until this season at Notre Dame, he’d never done this.
“I’ve never done it before, making a goaltender a captain,” said Jackson about goaltender and captain Cal Petersen, whose team will face Denver in the Frozen Four. “Everybody understood that being a captain is a lot more than talking to referees on the ice, which he cannot do. So his responsibilities are more in the day-to-day, in the locker room, in the weight room, socially off the ice.”
Petersen was a major cog in the Notre Dame machine that survived their trip through the Northeast Regional last weekend with 3-2 wins over Minnesota and UMass Lowell, the latter of which came in overtime.
In Saturday’s semifinal, Petersen wasn’t just a goaltender. No, in fact, when his team looked down and out, he made an individual play sending the puck about 120 feet up ice to catch Minnesota in a line change. Receiving the pass was Andrew Oglevie, who promptly fired it high on the short side to pull Notre Dame within a goal at 2-1.
It was the third time on the season that Petersen factored into the offense. He also had assists in big wins over Vermont and Providence.
But his play on Saturday was game changing, maybe even season changing.
His Irish club needed a jumpstart, so after a good shift that left Minnesota’s players in need of a line change, Petersen forced the puck back up the right side of the ice to catch the Gophers off guard.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Oglevie’s goal was followed by the equalizer shortly thereafter, and a game-winner on the power play in the third period.
With a new life and berth in the regional final, Petersen returned to do what he does best against a UMass Lowell team that nine days earlier had crushed Notre Dame, 5-1, in the Hockey East semifinals.
On Sunday, Petersen made 27 saves, plenty of the grade-A variety, and thanks to an overtime game-winner by Oglevie, the Irish are headed to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2011, this time in their relative backyard of Chicago.
The fact that Petersen had such a major hand in Notre Dame’s regional victories isn’t a surprise to anyone. The two victories had the junior goaltender and his teams on the highest of highs.
That, though, came after a Hockey East tournament that ended on the lowest of lows.
For the ninth time in 13 games over Notre Dame’s four years in Hockey East, the Irish lost to Lowell. But this semifinal loss was unlike any other.
Most every game over the four seasons versus the River Hawks was close. The two teams traded 4-1 decisions earlier in the season in South Bend, but neither felt like blowaways.
In the Hockey East semifinal, that was hardly the case. And while his team in front of him struggled that St. Patrick’s Day evening, Petersen’s performance wasn’t his best.
“I have certainly expectations for Cal,” said Jackson, a former goaltender himself who is Notre Dame’s resident goalie coach. “He’s the rock back there.
“He had a rough game against Lowell [in the Hockey East tournament], I talked to him about it. That was the first week of the season that we didn’t watch clips, because I didn’t want to watch the clips of the Lowell game with him.”
That strategy worked as throughout the regional tournament Petersen shone. He earned a spot on the all-tournament team, and had it not been for an offensive explosion by teammate Anders Bjork, he might have earned Most Outstanding Player.
That was the response that Jackson hoped to see.
“I know when to leave him alone and I know when the challenge him,” said Jackson. “I challenged him [before the regional].”
As the Irish prepare for the third Frozen Four in school history, they hope to make a little history themselves and win the school’s first Frozen Four title.
Maybe Jackson will once again give Petersen a challenge. Though when it comes to this captain who understands the magnitude of the games he will play at the United Center, don’t be surprised if that challenge isn’t necessary.