When Cal Heeter answered the phone last Monday and heard Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren on the phone, he assumed it was just for an end-of-season conversation.
It turned out to be far more surprising than that.
“I really couldn’t believe it when he said it,” Heeter said. “But when he told me there was a possibility that Team USA wanted me to be on the [World Championships] roster, I was like, ‘Absolutely.’”
Because other American goalies were either still playing in the NHL playoffs or had personal commitments that couldn’t allow them to go overseas for the tournament, Heeter got the call.
“Hey, it was an opportunity that fell into my lap and it’s pretty fantastic,” Heeter said Tuesday night following Team USA’s 5-3 loss to Russia. “It’s been a great experience so far. I’m learning a lot and just being part of this team is amazing. Even if I don’t get into any games, it’s great exposure for me and I get to meet a lot of new guys.”
Heeter has been a healthy scratch for each of Team USA’s first three games – A 5-3 win over Austria, a 4-1 win over Latvia and the loss to Russia.
There are three more games in pool play – this afternoon against host Finland and then games this weekend against France and Germany.
Heeter has not been told if he will see any game action and is just being asked to continue to practice hard and be prepared if an opportunity arises.
He is backing up Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop and Anaheim Ducks prospect John Gibson, who won Gold for Team USA in January in the World Junior Championships.
Heeter, 24, is coming off a productive season, his first as a pro, with both the Adirondack Phantoms of the AHL and the Trenton Titans of the ECHL.
Heeter surprised the Flyers brass a bit in training camp and beat out the favored Nikko Hovinen for a job as one of the Phantoms goalies.
And although he did spend a portion of the season with the Titans while former Flyers goalie Michael Leighton was on a rehab assignment with the Phantoms, Heeter was a productive goalie for the organization and landed himself on the Team USA radar.
He was 3-3-0 with the Titans with a 3.18 GAA and a .900 save percentage, but was better with the Phantoms, posting a 12-16-3 record with a 2.92 GAA and a .908 save percentage.
A St. Louis native, Heeter (6-4, 195), signed with the Flyers in the Spring of 2012 after finishing his collegiate career at the Ohio State University.
Yet, despite all his accolades as a professional hockey player, Heeter has never had the chance to travel to Europe… until now.
And to say he’s soaking in the European experience would be an understatement.
“It’s a really cool experience because it’s a whole new culture over here,” he said. “Our hotel is in downtown Helsinki, [Finland] and I’ve had the chance to walk around the town, go to a lot of the local shops and try out the Finnish cuisine.
“It’s great because the people here recognize right away that you are foregin but they embrace you and are really nice and accommodating and try to help you out all the time. I’m really enjoying this.”
Of course, the main focus for Heeter remains on hockey, and even though he’s been going full speed now for nine months, he doesn’t want to slow down and wants to use this opportunity to make himself an even better goalie.
“My whole goal over here, aside from helping the team in any way I can, but on a personal level, is to try to improve myself and my game,” he said. “The quality of players I practice with is pretty high. They’re better than the AHL. Hopefully I can use this as a springboard to jump right into next season and be a better goalie right from the jump.”
Until then though, Heeter is simply going to enjoy his time with Team USA.
“Just being invited to participate here is an honor,” he said. “It’s not every day that you get to represent your country. Just being considered for the team is enough to make you feel good that you are on the radar. But being here is something I’ll never forget.”
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