Cal Petersen has attended development camp every summer since being selected by the Sabres in the fifth round of the 2013 Draft, a whole year before he'd play his first game for University of Notre Dame or don the metallic gold mask that's since become a camp staple.
But he says this camp, his fourth, has been the most relevant experience yet. There's a multi-faceted quality – from strength and conditioning to nutritional guidance to sessions with goalie coach Andrew Allen – that, to Petersen, has made for a more intense and rewarding camp than ever before.
"All the camps have been great, but I think this one really brought it to a new level," Petersen said following the final practice session of the week on Monday. "I've really enjoyed it."
Relevance and comfort might also stem from Petersen's own development. Since being drafted, he's gone from minding the net in Waterloo to becoming an instant starter as a freshman at Notre Dame and, most recently, to starting every game as a sophomore for the Fighting Irish en route to a berth in the NCAA Tournament. He's made 50 straight starts dating back to his freshman season.
No player in the country, in fact, played a higher percentage of his team's minutes last season than Petersen. When the Irish went out to fight, 98.7 percent of the time, Petersen was right there with them. To play every game is a task that takes an equal toll on the mind and body, particularly for a major program in the ultra-competitive Hockey East Conference. There are no days off, no relaxed nights.
"I love it," Petersen said. "I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love being the guy that has to be relied upon every single night … You have to be ready for every single game and opportunity. Like I said, that's the way I want it to be and it's worked out very well."
What makes Petersen so dependable, says Connor Hurley, a teammate for two years at Notre Dame and a second-round pick by the Sabres himself in 2013, is his focus – Petersen gets school work done early simply so he doesn’t have to think about it on the ice – and his competitiveness. Hurley nearly scored on Petersen at development camp a few years ago and still hasn’t heard the end of it.
"He's just so competitive with himself," Hurley said. "He wants to be the best … He comes in and he knows that has to play at his highest potential every single game and he does that."
With that competitive drive in mind, Petersen still has a lofty to-do list at Notre Dame, atop of which is helping lead the program to its first national championship. He's proud and happy to play at Notre Dame, and he's in no rush to make his exit any sooner than he considers himself ready.
For now, he'll continue to take what he can from Allen (whom he calls a "brilliant goalie mind") and the other coaches at development camp, the skating and the puck play and the play on the post, back with him to college. He'll continue to watch NHL goalies and pick apart their games, borrowing the best parts for his own use.
When he's ready, whether it's in one year or two, he'll take it all and apply it at the next level.
"I want to be able to accomplish everything that I want to accomplish at school before I decide it's time to take the next step," he said. "I want to feel comfortable that when I make the next step that I can succeed at the next level that there's not going to be a huge learning curve and be able to step into a situation where I can grow and develop and push the limits."