Young players look to instill winning culture in LA Kings’ victory over the Calgary Flames

By Leah Vann
Medill Reports

LOS ANGELES – There isn’t a lot on the line at this point in the NHL season, but Cal Petersen seized an opportunity to show what he’s capable of.

Following the Kings’ deal to trade Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford to the Maple Leafs for Trevor Moore and two third-round draft picks on Feb. 5, the 25-year-old goalie slipped in as the next guy up behind 13-year veteran Jonathan Quick.

“Ever since I got to juniors, it’s been a goal,” Petersen said. “Every year I’ve been climbing a couple of rungs. I want to make the opportunity count.”

Petersen played 11 games for the Kings last season and spent 37 games this season with the Ontario Reign before receiving the call. Despite giving up three goals against the Flames on Wednesday night, he made 35 saves.

“I really just wanted to play strong for the guys and start to establish some confidence,” Petersen said.

Petersen wasn’t the only young player taking advantage of his newly sealed spot on the roster. Austin Wagner created a momentum-shifting opportunity for the Kings to take the game.

With the game tied 1-1 following Tyler Toffoli’s goal in the second period, Trevor Lewis tapped the puck free from Calgary’s Tobias Reider’s stick in the defensive zone, sending it down the ice to Wagner.

The 22-year-old capitalized on a breakaway drive, nailing the team’s second goal in the top left corner, putting the Kings ahead 2-1 against their rival with seven minutes left in the second period.

“Last year, I was up and down a little bit and got the move,” Wagner said at the Toyota Sports Center during the team’s morning skate.  “I was trying to find my way in the league. Now I’m trying to kind of find my spot, find what makes me successful in this league and what’s going to keep me in this league.”

Wagner’s goal was one of five in the Kings’ 5-3 victory over the Flames, breaking their five-game losing streak and notching their first victory since defeating the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 30.

The Kings have struggled on the ice, honing the second-worst record in the NHL with 19 wins, 33 losses and five overtime losses, winning just three out of their 15 games in 2020.

Like Petersen, the Calgary native is among the young contingent of Kings’ players hoping to put the team back on the path of a Stanley Cup, which they won just six years ago. But the culture surrounding the team in L.A. is different. He said he’s interested to see what winning would do for the L.A. community.

“The fans treat us just like we’re normal and they don’t think anything higher or lower of you if you win or lose,” Wagner said. “That’s the nice thing about L.A. In Calgary, you’re kind of like the movie star because it’s such a hockey-oriented city.”

Wagner said confidence not just in his own performance, but allowing the moment to play a big role, are falling into place. As an offensive player, he said, the overwhelming pressure to score can inhibit your ability to help the offense.

But scoring against his hometown team Wednesday night was fun, he said. And he hopes there’s more where that came from.

“Last year we didn’t make playoffs, so I got to experience some Flames playoff games,” Wagner said. “It was one of the few times I ever got to and hopefully ever will. We’re trying to get into the playoffs here and not just one year, but for years to come.”

Photo at top: Los Angeles Kings goalie Calvin Petersen captured 35 saves in his second game on the ice this year. The Kings defeated the Calgary Flames 5-3. (Michaela Schirra/MEDILL)