CEDAR RAPIDS – Some game soon, Judd Peterson will pick up his first assist of the United States Hockey League season. Until then, the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders center will have to put up with light-heartedly being called “puck hog” by his teammates.
“They’re telling me to share the puck,” Peterson said with a smile. “I’m kind of wondering when my first assist is going to come, too. Though you really can’t think about it. Just go out there and play hockey.”
Peterson has been on a nice little goal roll lately, scoring in three consecutive games. Cedar Rapids (5-1-1, 11 points) is at Indiana and Muskegon this weekend (Friday and Saturday, respectively).
The 20-year-old from Duluth, Minn., has six goals in seven games this season, but nary a helper. Those are weird statistics.
“Yeah, and he’s using my stick, too,” RoughRiders forward Andrew Poturalski said. “First shift with it, he scores. Those goals should be mine.”
Peterson smiled again at Poturalski’s comment. Puck hog and stick thief, oh, that’s rough.
“I think it’s just listening to Coach, playing fast and shooting more,” he said. “Not always trying to make the cuter play. Just take my options, what they give me. If they give me the net, just take it, instead of trying to make the high-school move where you want to go through a guy and make it look fancy.”
Peterson came to the RoughRiders last season straight from prep hockey, a significant jump. There’s no question he’s got tremendous raw ability, but it hasn’t always translated on the ice.
Coach Mark Carlson recently sat him down and told him to fire the puck more. He has done that to great effect.
“He’s a big, strong guy who can absolutely fly and has a great shot. Why wouldn’t you use your assets?” Carlson said. ”But that’s part of being in this league. I think he’s starting to understand it, now the important part is to be consistent. Also to understand that you’re not going to score every night. Just keep plugging, keep hammering pucks on net, keep making the hard plays and fast plays. Very few guys in this league are going to have success being cute.”
“I think my first four games, I had four shots,” Peterson said. “As a player in this league, you want to average more than one a game. Getting more shots per game is really helping me.”
The 6-foot, 190-pounder was a seventh-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2012. He’s a St. Cloud State commit who many thought would head to college this year.
But Peterson and Carlson agreed another season in the USHL would make him a better player in the long run. College and pro can wait, no matter how difficult that might be for kids to realize sometimes.
“We talk to everybody about that,” Carlson said. ”It’s really easy for guys to get caught up in ‘What’s next with college? What’s next with hopefully someday playing pro hockey?’ These are extremely important developmental years for them. Not just our players, but every player in this league. These are key years, this is where you really learn how to play. The type of player they become in this league is almost always the player they are in college.”
“Don’t worry about being committed, don’t worry about being drafted,” Peterson said. “Just kind of push all that to the side, push all that down. I’m here with the RoughRiders, and I need to go out and play with my team. If you are not worried about things, better things are going to happen for you. When you start thinking things like ‘Aw, I’ve got to do this because the Sabres are watching, St. Cloud is watching,’ you’re going to start playing all tense and stressed out.”
Peterson said the Sabres contact him from time to time. They will retain his NHL rights until 30 days after he decides to leave college, whenever that might be.
“I would say I talk to them maybe once every two or three months,” Peterson said. “They’ll call and just kind of check in to see how things are going. Last year, when we were in Youngstown, they came and watched me play, and we sat down and talked about how the year was going. Stuff like that. It’s not like every month or anything, just every now and then.”
The RoughRiders will be without goaltender Chris Birdsall, forward Andrew Oglevie and defenseman Clark Kuster for the next two weeks because they are representing the United States on a team that will play in the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge in Nova Scotia.
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