PROVIDENCE, R.I. – It’s been a long, winding road for Charlotte Checkers goaltender Justin Peters.
A few times, his career had taken a wrong turn. But right now? It seems like he’s back on the right path. Selected 38th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, the now-26-year-old spent all but one game of his first pro season in 2006-07 with the Albany River Rats, with the other 65 minutes coming in a 6-5 loss as a member of the ECHL’s Florida Everblades.
Peters’ numbers in that first pro season — 3.26 goals-against average, .886 save percentage — were a bit underwhelming, and it made the Hurricanes decision to send him back down to Florida for the majority of the following season an easier one to make. But a strong year there (2.57 goals-against average, .922 save percentage) turned things around for him, and he hasn’t been back to the ECHL since. After a full American Hockey League season in 2008-09, Peters made his NHL debut the following year, and has played 26 contests at the game’s top level, including 12 in 2010-11, when he spent all year with Carolina as Cam Ward’s backup.
After the Hurricanes brought in former Idaho Steelheads netminder Dan Ellis as Ward’s backup this season, Peters was again sent back down to the AHL, but has thrived with the Checkers this season, earning the start in the league’s All-Star Game while on pace to post the best goals against average of his seven-year pro career.
The site of that All-Star Game was the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., and that’s exactly where ECHL.com was able to catch up with the affable Blyth, Ontario native for a one-on-one chat.
Mike Ashmore, ECHL.com: So let’s go back to where it all started…draft day back in 2004. What do you remember about that whole experience?
Justin Peters: "It was an amazing experience. I got drafted by the home team in Raleigh; they were hosting the draft, and it was pretty exciting. I had all my family down there, and to be able to hear your name called…a lot of thoughts go through your head when you get your name called after all the dreaming as a kid that you’d get drafted."
ECHL.com: That first pro year, you only had the one game in the ECHL, but the following season, you were there for the majority of the time.
Was that tough to take at first given that you’d spent a full year in the "A?"
Peters: "At the time, yeah. At the time, Tom Rowe was the coach there, and he said it was the best thing for me. At the moment, you don’t see the big picture. But being able to get down there and play; I was down there for three months and I played a lot of games, it was a real good boost for my career and to get some games in and get experience. Florida’s a top-class organization, and I got to enjoy the weather down there and play some good hockey."
ECHL.com: How about from a playing level standpoint…how difficult is the adjustment in that regard?
Peters: "You know what, I think the ECHL is a real good league for young goalies to develop in. Reason being is the level of play, sometimes it might be a little more scrambly hockey, but at the same time you get those players with the puck in the slot, and they can score. I find the top players at each level, they can all score when they get the puck in the slot. So, it was real beneficial for me there, and I think the adjustment was just more mentally me being in the right mindframe for it."
ECHL.com: Tell me about getting to make your NHL debut after that little bump in the road…
Peters: "It was another dream come true. Having that coach tell you you were going to be starting that first game, and having your parents come in for that…to be able to get a win to top it all off, it couldn’t have been better. When something like that happens, you get those thoughts in your head — like where you’ve been and the people who’ve helped you along the way, so it was very rewarding."
ECHL.com: Do you feel like there’s sort of a parallel between the first two years of the pro career, where you had to battle back to get to where you wanted to go, to the last two years, to where you’re kind of going through that process all over again?
Peters: "It’s a constant battle. You’ve got to stay persistent. I have a lot of belief in myself that I can get back up to that level, and I’m doing the best I can at this level to prepare for that opportunity. Now, with a little more experience, I think I’m dealing with a little better than I did those first couple years, but I’m still continuing to strive towards my ultimate goal, and that’s being an everyday NHL’er."