PETERS READY TO CONTRIBUTEJustin Peters’ previous AHL assignments surely left him disappointed. His current conditioning stint does not seem to have had the same affect.
Not only was Thursday Peters’ first Checkers practice since Oct. 14, it was also his first with any team in over two weeks. Even prior to the NHL’s Olympic break that is now drawing to a close, he was the odd-man out in a three-headed goalie tandem consisting of himself, Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin – all three of which have now gone on conditioning stints in Charlotte since late December.
“It’s good to be back here and having some fun with the guys,” said Peters, who has not played a game at any level since his last Hurricanes start on Jan. 19. “Today was so much fun to get some shots and get some of that competitive nature back.”
When Ward returned from his own conditioning stint with the Checkers on Feb. 2, Peters would sometimes not even practice with the Hurricanes, with the team citing the need to give the other two their own net for the duration of the team session. It was a quick adjustment from earlier in the season, when injuries made him the team’s No. 1 option for most of November and December.
“That’s all part of it,” said Peters. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs over the last few years and you expect the unexpected. If you get too far ahead of yourself or look into the past you’re going to get caught up in it and it’s going to affect your play.”
That past includes his run as the NHL starter, when he posted a 2.50 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in 21 total games this season, including a stellar run of games in November.
“It was great,” said Peters. “As a hockey player you want an opportunity and I was given that. I felt I took advantage of it and played some good hockey. I’m here right now and I’m just going to have some fun, enjoy it, work on my game and most importantly get some wins.”
Success in his extended NHL run essentially caused the Hurricanes’ current logjam at the position, with the organization unwilling to expose Peters to waivers, something they had done several times in the past, for fear that his increased profile would cause another team to snatch him away. The conditioning stint, which could last a maximum of 14 days per NHL rules, is a way of avoiding that risk and keeping him sharp.
“It’s a situation to get some games under his belt,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “He’s fresh now where he hasn’t played in a while. There’s no pressure, just go out and play. Whether it’s a game or two games or two weeks, when he goes back up he’ll be game ready.”
Citing the layoff, Daniels said that Peters may not start in the Checkers’ next game in Texas this Friday. With John Muse out for the weekend after leaving Tuesday’s game with an injury, that would leave the net to Mike Murphy for the first of back-to-back games against the Stars.
From that point on, it sounds as though it will be Peters’ show as long as he’s available, with the two-time AHL All-Star coming off his best statistical season to date (22-12-1, 2.29 GAA, .921 SV% and six shutouts).
“We want to make sure he’s ready to go mentally and physically and give him the best chance to do what he does in the net,” said Daniels. “If that’s not tomorrow, it’ll be Saturday.
“When he’s good to go we’ll use him as long as he’s down here to play every game.”
For his part, Peters, who has had not only an up-and-down season but an up-and-down career as far as seeing his role within the organization change constantly, is ready to contribute.
“I don’t think there’s any other way to approach it,” he said. “If you take the negatives of it, it’s going to put you in a bad spot. I’m positive, I’m a believer that good things happen if you do the right things, work hard and come with the right attitude and that’s how I’m going to approach this.”
OLYMPIC CHATTERThe four teams remaining in the men’s Olympic Hockey tournament are each represented in the Checkers’ locker room, something that’s clear to see from watching the players interact with one another.
Whether it’s the United States (Aaron Palushaj), Canada (Zach Boychuk, Greg Nemisz and Ryan Murphy), Finland (Rasmus Rissanen) or Sweden (Victor Rask), at least one Checkers player has represented one of the remaining nations at the junior level. Palushaj has even done so on the senior circuit, having suited up for Team USA at this past summer’s World Championship.
All of that’s made for plenty of chatter leading up to the next round of games on Friday. One head-to-head match-up has already occurred, with the U.S. bouncing two-time World Junior defenseman Michal Jordan’s Czech team from the quarterfinals.
“There’s excitement in the room,” said Daniels. “The Olympics are a big thing and something that everyone enjoys watching, not only for the quality of hockey but also for the bragging rights. It’s all in good fun.”
With Jordan, Rask and Rissanen the only European players on the team, the rest of the roster breaks down to 17 cheering for Canada, including Keegan Lowe, whose father, Kevin, helped assemble the team, and four cheering for the U.S. The latter group includes Brendan Woods, a dual citizen who cheers for both but sides with the Americans during head-to-head match-ups. Another member of the team with two nationalities has chosen to abstain.
“I’m dual, so I can go either way tomorrow,” said Daniels, artfully dodging the question.
That will make the North American rivalry the main event, but there’s still plenty at stake between Rask and Rissanen.
“Me and Rask have been chirping each other,” said Rissanen. “It’s a big rivalry in Scandinavia it’s all over the newspapers.”
Rissanen has arguably the tournament’s biggest win to this point under his belt, with Finland knocking off the host team on Wednesday.
“That was huge,” he said, smiling. “It was a big upset, and I think Russia didn’t like it that much.”
No matter what happens on Friday, it’s never too early to start talking about the gold medal game, even though the Checkers are likely to miss it due to their travel schedule. Murphy started that when asked about being an outside observer of the rivalry between Rissanen and Rask.
“We chirp them a bit, but obviously they don’t stand a chance against Canada and the U.S.,” he said.
ROSTER UPDATESDaniels said the team would reassess Muse’s injury on Monday. Brody Sutter showed no limitations at Thursday’s practice after missing Tuesday’s game, while Greg Nemisz has not yet participated in a full team practice.
Chris Terry missed Thursday’s practice due to personal reasons and will meet the Checkers in Texas in time for Friday’s game.