Peters working to fit in in Albany

By Colleen Greene

Rookie netminder Justin Peters looks just a bit out of place between the pipes for the AHL Albany River Rats. Not really because of his play, but the stark contrast between the bright blue mask from his former junior team, the Plymouth Whalers, that he still wears against the Rats’ red uniforms.

“I haven’t gotten it yet,” he said of his new mask. “My Carolina one is designed with half the River Rats logo, and half the Hurricanes logo on it. It should be coming soon.”

Beyond the mask, Peters is basically brand new to the AHL game and he’s still trying to develop his consistency. He currently holds a win-loss record of 2-7 with a 3.19 GAA and a .877 save percentage, numbers that indicate the Blyth, ON native is still trying to adjust to the pace of the professional game. He had a .921 save percentage last year with Plymouth.

“Obviously, it’s been a bit of an adjustment,” he said. “There are a lot of great players in this league and on our team, and I’m just trying to learn every day and get better every day.

“The guys are faster and that’s an adjustment for a goalie,” he added. “In this league, if guys get a scoring chance, most of the time they’re going to score, so you just have to do your best to try and stop it. I’m just trying to take it all in, and I can only get better.”

Friday was only Peters’ tenth game of the season as he and Colorado goaltending prospect Tyler Weiman have been sharing time in Albany’s net thus far. The Rats’ dropped the game to the Phantoms by a score of 4-2.

Albany head coach Tom Rowe is playing his goalies on a fairly steady rotation, and while Peters took the loss against Philadelphia, he likes what he’s seen out of his youngest goalie so far.

“This season overall, I think he’s played really well,” he said. “I think he may have struggled a little bit tonight. You’re going to have those ups and downs with young guys, but they’re only going to get better if you put them in there. But he’s a kid, and he’s playing good for us, it’s just every once in a while, they’re going to make mistakes.”

The goaltending duo in Albany, like the entire team, is a young one – Weiman is just 22 — and there is plenty of room for healthy competition among them.

“There have been a few stretches where he’s played a couple games in a row, then I’ve played a couple games, so it’s been pretty evenly split,” he said. “We’ve just been pushing each other and trying to get better.”

Competition to consistently play at a higher level on this team is something that should prove to be a pretty valuable asset to Peters in the future. While he and Weiman are competing against each other for time in Albany, the 20-year-old rookie is also up against some stiff competition within the Carolina organization. Besides Peters, the Canes have Kevin Nastiuk, Magnus Akerlund, and Craig Kowalski, all of whom are working to play alongside Cam Ward in Raleigh. While Peters is probably the most highly regarded of the group, he’s aware of what he’s up against.

“Obviously, there are some great goalies, and it makes you realize you can never be too sure,” he said. “You know you’re never safe and you have to fight for your job every day.”

Drafted in the second round by the Hurricanes (38th overall) in the 2004 Draft, Peters’ rights are held by a team that is already very competitive at the NHL level, and he hopes to become a key contributor in the big club’s success sooner rather than later.

“I was pretty excited just being drafted, period,” he said. “I was glad I went to the Hurricanes, and the draft was in Carolina that year, so that was pretty exciting. Obviously, they won the Cup last year, so it’s great to be a part of their organization.”

Peters is looking to improve upon a pretty successful junior career, one that saw him compile an 88-56-12-7 record over four years with two teams. He played his junior hockey in the OHL before joining the professional ranks. He spent the majority of that time in Toronto playing with the St. Michael’s Majors. After nearly four seasons there, however, he requested to be traded, and midway through the 2005-06 season, he was dealt to the Plymouth Whalers.

“It was just a fresh start,” he said when asked why he had asked for the trade. “I had been with that organization for three and a half years, and I felt that it would be in my best interest to get a change. That was going to be my last year there and I ended up going to Plymouth, which is a part of the Carolina organization, so it was just a fresh start and it worked out great.”

Now that he’s made the jump to the AHL, Peters is looking to improve on the technical aspects of his game. He seems to be fundamentally sound, especially when it comes to playing his angles. At 6’1 and weighing in at 213 pounds, he’s a big goalie who’s difficult to beat on the first shot. He’s also very adept at playing the puck on dump-ins and setting it up for his teammates.

“It’s just a part of the game that I feel I’m strong in,” he said of his puck-handling skills. “I do it really just to help out the defense.

“I’m trying to improve on my game overall. I just want to be solid and give my team a chance to win every night. I guess on my strong side, too, is that I’m pretty competitive and hungry to win. It’s frustrating to lose, but at the same time I’m just trying to get better.”

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