A bronze medal in hand, LA Kings netminder Cal Petersen finishes his 2021 World Championship tournament on a high note, reflecting on his vast success.
If you were to ask Team USA — or any country, for that matter — if they were hoping to win the bronze medal at the 2021 World Championship, they’d say no. That isn’t a detriment to the medal necessarily but rather a testament to just how valuable winning gold at this or any tournament is. For LA Kings Cal Petersen, though, winning the bronze medal only capped off a personally successful tournament.
After an opening-game loss to Finland, Team USA got their act together very quickly, reeling off seven straight wins to earn a spot in the semi-final at the 2021 Worlds. Unfortunately, their opponent, Team Canada, had other plans as they defeated their American neighbors by a 4-2 count to advance to Sunday’s gold-medal game.
For Team USA, they were relegated to play for the bronze medal against Germany. A promising tournament was suddenly all for naught. Or was it?
Arguably the greatest test of character in any international tournament is the bronze-medal game. The contest features two teams who had just missed out on playing for gold, so few, if any, could blame them for not wanting to give it their cliched 110 percent for a chance to finish third. However, if apathy is a regular theme for a bronze-medal game, someone forgot to tell Team USA, especially Cal Petersen.
Following the Americans’ decisive 6-1 victory over Germany to win bronze on Sunday, the Kings goaltender spoke with the media about the game, the tournament, and just how proud he feels to be part of such a special group of players.
“Today was just a perfect example [of the] kind of character that we have in the room,” Petersen said. “I think it’s kind of known that this is the hardest game to play because you have the ultimate letdown of not being able to play for a championship like every team and every guy sets out to do, but I think we realized that, like [Justin Abdelkaeder] was saying, we had a really special group, and we wanted to end this thing on the right note, and I think we deserve that it ended on the right note, and I think we were just going to find a way today regardless and I think every guy showed up. We said that this game was going to go our way regardless of whatever got in our way, and I think that shows a lot about the guys here. It shows a lot about the kind of people that USA selects to be on the team and I’m extremely proud to wear this medal and to be part of this team.
“[This is] something I’m gonna remember for the rest of my life and I know the rest of the guys and the support staff, and the people that came with us are going to remember it, too.”
Some less patient Kings fans are inclined to look at Cal Petersen’s 2020-21 NHL campaign as a disappointment. In fairness, his 2.89 goals-against average and .911 save percentage certainly don’t suggest that the 26-year-old is on the decline. His 9-18-5 record for the Kings this past season may not be noteworthy but it is safe to argue that Petersen’s lackluster record was much more of a reflection of his team’s lack of scoring than it was of the netminder’s abilities in goal. Nevertheless, if Petersen was hoping to show the strength of his resilience in Latvia, his mission was accomplished.
At the 2021 Worlds, Petersen tied for the tournament lead among goaltenders with five wins and two shutouts. Additionally, he led all tournament netminders with an amazing 95.34 save percentage and even earned himself a stellar 1.29 GAA, which was second only to Finland’s Jussi Olkinuora. Heck, No. 40 has every intention of making his solid play in Latvia a foreshadowing of things to come in Los Angeles.
“That’s one of the reasons why I came over here,” Petersen noted without hesitation. “Obviously, not making playoffs and you want to get as much experience as you can playing in these games where every save matters and games that you have to win. So, it’s an extremely valuable experience for me, and I think for the rest of the guys from the Kings that were here, too. It’s basically playoff hockey every single game, so any experience that you can have with that and have some success and learn what it takes to win in those games, it’s great.”
While fellow Kings Trevor Moore and Christian Wolanin also garnered personal success at the 2021 Worlds, Team USA was led most by their captains. The club’s original captain, Justin Abdelkaeder, however, went down with an injury early in the tournament, making way for former King Brian Boyle to take over captaincy duties. But, even though, Abdelkaeder didn’t return to action in Latvia, he remained close with Boyle and the team for motivational and emotional support for the remainder of the tournament. The leadership of both men played an integral role in helping the Americans win a medal.
It is worth noting, though, that neither Adbelkaeder nor Boyle played in the NHL last season. The former suited up in Switzerland while the latter chose not to play at all. So, with neither captain having an NHL contract, there is the possibility of either, if not both, returning to North America.
For Cal Petersen, he was put on the spot following Sunday’s win, being asked if he can convince Kings general manager Rob Blake to bring either Abdelkaeder or Boyle to Los Angeles. The Kings netminder chose to be diplomatic instead, taking the opportunity to sing his captains’ praises.
“I don’t know if I could have stronger encouragement or words for these guys, just in terms of leadership, what they brought,” the 26-year-old fondly noted. “Obviously, Boyler taking over for Abby after he got hurt but only the guys in the locker will know what Abby meant to us, especially as a leader and I think that actually only grew after he got injured and he was an integral part of each game that he was on the bench, and I don’t know if you can have a better leader.
“Boyler was a guy that, even though he didn’t wear a letter at the end of the tournament, he was the guy that I think kind of naturally was a leader, was able to bring guys along with him. These are two guys that have already proven a lot in their own careers and they made the choice to come over here and leave their families and sit in a bubble with 20 other young kids that maybe not fully realized or have the kind of experience that they did. For [Abdelkaeder and Boyle] to stand shoulder to shoulder with us and put everything into this tournament, show us what it means to be a leader and what it means to be the winner, I think, is awesome and it’s lessons that, from the youngest guy the oldest guy, everybody can take with them and hopefully bring back to their own teams.”
Whether or not the question about Rob Blake had some tongue-in-cheek undertones to it, you can bet that the Kings GM and his staff have been taking note of what has been going on at this year’s World Championship. Whether it means a change for the LA Kings entering next season, however, remains to be seen. For Cal Petersen, though, aside from missing out on gold, he couldn’t have asked for a better tournament.
Some may see the World Championship as a consolation prize, for lack of a better term, or a way to stay in shape or keep busy. There may be some accuracy to each of these thoughts but nevertheless, the Worlds are a showcase of some of the best players on the planet. They may have missed the playoffs with their respective pro teams but to any functional human being — not just an athlete — the option of stewing over a disappointing season is, frankly, not an option at all.
For some, like Kings defenseman Mikey Anderson, the end of the NHL season was a chance to rest and regroup and, especially given the unusual circumstances that have surrounded us this past year, choosing to lay low and be with family is certainly a decision no one has the right to judge or analyze. For those who did choose to participate in the 2021 Worlds, however, huge kudos to them.
For players young and old given the honor to represent their country is something not to be taken lightly. For Cal Petersen, wearing his native country’s colors was something that he’ll not only remember for the rest of his life but a privilege that will only make him a better player.
The Stanley Cup may not have been on the line in Latvia but to play at the World Championship, and to win a medal, is an achievement only a select few can relate to. So, with that said, let us all raise our glasses, literally or figuratively, to Cal Petersen, the rest of the LA Kings contingent, and all of Team USA on a very successful tournament.