There are some simple explanations for why Landon Peterson has surfaced atop the goaltending depth chart for the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team this season.
Here's one is courtesy of UW coach Mike Eaves, who referenced a theme for Peterson during his rookie season when his save percentage (89.6) and goals against average (3.01) were unacceptable.
"He's eliminated that weak goal that seemed to haunt him last year," Eaves said.
Here's one from Jeff Sanger, the volunteer goaltending coach for the Badgers who made note of how Peterson has tightened his technique in the crease compared to last season.
"He's doing the detail things and getting the job done," Sanger said.
Here's one from Peterson, who outlined a philosophy passed along last summer from his NHL goaltending guru, Mike Valley.
"He always talked a lot about just being relaxed, staying relaxed and seal the ice completely so that nothing goes under you and nothing goes through you," Peterson said of the former UW goaltender who works for the Dallas Stars. "I've just been sitting more relaxed in my net, letting plays come to me instead of me trying to go to the plays because that's when you start making mistakes."
Pull them all together and one can understand why Peterson (2-2-2, 1.63 goals against average, 94.2 save ratio) has inched ahead of fellow sophomore Joel Rumpel (2-5-3, 2.30, 91.7) and become the first option for Eaves heading into the second half of the regular season.
That will be reflected Friday night when the Badgers — riding a six-game unbeaten streak, but under .500 overall at 4-7-5 — open a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series at Alaska-Anchorage.
Rumpel was projected to be the primary starter when the season began based on his strong showing down the stretch and in the 2011-12 playoffs. That's why he worked five of the first six games this season.
But a week after Rumpel allowed eight goals during consecutive home losses to Colorado College, Peterson played brilliantly en route to a career-high 41 saves during a 2-2 overtime draw at Minnesota and the pendulum began to swing.
During the current unbeaten stretch (3-0-3), Peterson has made three starts, allowing two goals and stopping 97.4 percent of the shots he's faced (74 of 76). He ranks fifth in the nation and second in the WCHA in save percentage and is seventh in the nation and first in the league in goals against average.
Eaves typically decides on a series starter and waits until after the game before showing his hand for the next night. Peterson has never started both games of a weekend series. Rumpel has done it nine times, including twice this season.
Although the depth chart has been flipped since the start of the season, Eaves can't complain much about his goaltending. Dartmouth and Merrimack are the only other NCAA Division I schools with tandems with similar workloads and numbers.
"It's been what I'd hoped it would be," Eaves said, mindful of the fact the Badgers rank second in the WCHA and 13th nationally in scoring defense at 2.25 goals allowed per game. Rumpel acknowledged he's lost ground to Peterson "maybe a little bit," but "I feel like I'm nipping at his heels."
Sanger suggested Rumpel has had his confidence bruised a bit and is trying to address "little details" in his game.
"Joel is in a situation where Landon was last year a little bit in regards to a goal here and there that he wished he'd had back," Sanger said.
The long trip to Anchorage — the Badgers left Wednesday afternoon — is a homecoming of sorts for Peterson, an Oregon High School product who played two junior league seasons with Alaska of the North American Hockey League from 2009 to '11.
"I had a really good time up there," he said, noting he was headquartered one season in Wasilla and one in Palmer. "Taught me a lot of life lessons. It's a place I'll never forget. I'm glad I got to spend my two years of juniors up there."
Peterson wouldn't go so far as to say he's become the go-to guy in goal for UW.
"We're both playing well," he said. "We're keeping our team in the games and we're both getting the job done. But I feel like I've definitely proved myself, improved my position and, by working hard day in and day out, showed what I can do."