Notre Dame's Smooth Transition
From Cal to Cale, Goaltending In Good Hands as Irish Look For Return Trip to FF
Cale Morris and Cal Petersen still talk, sending frequent texts that lessen the distance from South Bend, Ind., to Ontario. Morris even sent Petersen a text on Monday morning, joking about Petersen’s AHL All-Star Game rapid-fire questions.
"We had a really good relationship both on and off the ice, and it definitely went further than just a goalie and a backup having a working relationship,” Petersen said. “We had a close friendship and got along really well.”
Morris spent all of last season, his freshman year at Notre Dame, backing up Petersen. He appeared in one game, posting a .875 save percentage. But now Morris is the backbone for a defense that allows just 1.96 goals per game, third-lowest in the NCAA. And Morris leads the country with a .962 save percentage, the kind of numbers that could win a goalie a Hobey Baker Award for the first time in 18 years.
“I saw the skill that he had and the attention to detail and the work ethic. It was a matter of whenever he got his opportunity, whether it was this year or whether it took a year for him to adjust. But I knew that he was going to be a very good college goalie, so I'm not surprised at all,” Petersen said.
“His best skills are his athleticism and his skating. He moves around the net really well and he's able to get a lot of his body in front of shots and get his hands active.”
When Petersen signed his professional contract at the end of his junior season, he gave Morris one piece of advice: Get off to a strong start.
Morris only started three of the first seven games, splitting starts with freshman Dylan St. Cyr. But eventually his play took over and Morris became the starter and the glue that held together a very injured Notre Dame team. The Fighting Irish, while missing some key players, went 2-1 in those first three. When Morris took over for good Oct. 27, Notre Dame reeled off 16 wins in a row.
“We have a great relationship and I know if I have any questions for anything down the road that I can definitely reach out to him,” Morris said.
Morris and Petersen’s relationship grew at Notre Dame, but it started years before when the pair attended a hockey camp in Vancouver together several years ago. Petersen and Morris already knew of each other; Morris had just joined Waterloo in the USHL, where Petersen had just played for the two previous years before matriculating at Notre Dame. The Waterloo connection bonded the pair at camp.
“I could tell right away that he had a lot of skill and was really athletic, so that was the first time I got to hang out with him,” Petersen said. “We forged a relationship and kept in touch a little bit.”
When Morris visited Notre Dame, Petersen was the player he hung out with. When Morris eventually matriculated, they became closer. And despite Petersen being two years older than Morris, the tandem didn’t have a traditional mentor-mentee relationship.
“Only if he ever came to me and had a question on how I played something or did something,” Petersen said. “It was vice versa too; I'd come to him and ask him why he did something or what was his thinking behind it, because I wanted to see whether something that I could take from his game and implement it into mine [and if] that would make me better. That was the dynamic that probably helped us out the most."
The bond made it easier for Morris to spend the season as a backup, as he was pushing Petersen to be better in practice.
“I was rooting for him the whole time and obviously rooting for the team to have success, but more for him to have personal success because I was close and I cared about him,” Morris said.
Despite not playing, Morris took advantage of his practice time, paying attention during goalie drills and discussing goaltending styles with Petersen. Off the ice and in the weight room they pushed each other as well.
“A lot of credit goes to him to not be discouraged in any of those long weeks of practice where he knew he wasn't going to play on the weekend and being able to stay ready and still have a commitment to making his game better,” Petersen said.
“For him to use it as a year to get better and know that his time was coming soon and he was going to get his shot, to get the most of it, that speaks volumes to how hard he worked and the kind of [effort] that he put in.”
Morris worked on anticipating plays as opposed to just reacting, while Petersen saw Morris’ patience and skating improve last season.
“He's always been a really good skater and been able to fly around the crease and was very athletic, but I think at times he got a little spread out. That exposed him a little bit. Once he was able to figure that out during last year with the stuff that we worked on, he became a lot more patient and trusted his edges and trusted his ability to dribble shots on his feet and be able to make the save and not have to rely on his athleticism to get across.”
On game days, Morris also studied what made the special, Frozen Four team click. One of the factors was Petersen’s calmness in net, that helped the goaltender post a .926 save percentage that season.
“Him being the captain, he had a job to do, but he had a good way of just staying composed and being able to anchor back there that the team fed off,” Morris said. “I’ve tried to really simulate that in my game and just be as even-keeled as can be and be a rock back there."
With Petersen’s departure, there was speculation of how Notre Dame would fare, Morris, after all, had played just once during the 2016-17 season and was entering his sophomore year. But Morris showed his skill early, which helped a struggling team win games.
"I think I have a really good mind of the game and can see plays develop before they're happening, so I stay a few steps ahead of the game as much as I can,” Morris said. “I also think that I'm very calm and strong minded. If I let a goal in I know it's not going to affect me. ... I keep the team as steady as I can from back there."
The Fighting Irish are healthy now, have their identity and have accrued an 11-point cushion for first place in the Big Ten as they search for another Frozen Four appearance. But they may not have survived the first half of the season without Morris.
“I was able to watch a couple games and I keep in touch with Cale a lot as well as a lot of other guys on the team,” Petersen said. “ I still feel like I'm a little bit a part of them, just being able to keep track of their success. I’m just ecstatic for how well they're doing and the guys in the locker room, because they definitely deserve it."