Long before he got to the NHL, Willie Desjardins’ coaching odyssey took him to Japan in the mid-1990s.
He was with the Seibu Bears, and his goalie was Dusty Imoo. The two won a championship together. Little did they know that they would play important roles with the Kings, decades later.
Imoo became a goalie development coach for the Kings, and his work with Jack Campbell, Cal Petersen and others has been integral to an injury-ridden season for the team’s goalies. As interim Kings coach, Desjardins has an appreciation for what might be the best goalie development staff around with Imoo and Bill Ranford.
“That’s a strong point of this organization,” Desjardins said. “Jack’s a much better goaltender then when I had him before [with the Texas Stars], and you have to give those guys lots of credit. Bill is such a professional. He has a really good game plan for his goaltenders. I coached Dusty way back, and he was one of the first guys to get Jack going in the right direction, and he’s done a good job.”
The Kings’ history of developing goalies cuts a wide swath, from Jonathan Quick, Jonathan Bernier, Martin Jones to recently with Campbell and Petersen. It was that history that made Petersen choose the Kings in free agency, even after a reported recruitment pitch by then-Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.
“He’s seen the big a part of it,” Ranford said of Petersen. “He wasn’t one of these guys who said, ‘I have to be in the NHL right away.’ Obviously we had guys here already and we felt it was important for him to go through the process.”
That process got expedited with knee injuries to Quick and Campbell within 12 days. Petersen was already slated to start last Friday at Chicago, and Desjardins went with him again on Saturday. Petersen started 90 consecutive games for Notre Dame, but it’s another animal to face NHL shooters for the first time back-to-back.
“These guys do a great job of getting us the right resources so we’re as prepared as possible,” Petersen said. “I think part of the thing with Bill [is to] mostly just concentrate on myself and things that I need to do to be successful, and not so much pay attention to what they’re doing. I think if I kind of narrow that focus … that’s where I’ll find the most success.”
Imoo played a major role in the revival of Campbell’s career, and he’s helped transition Petersen into the professional game. That’s been trying because Petersen has tried to buoy the Ontario Reign and seen a lot of pucks end up in his net. Imoo said Petersen can handle that adversity.
“Mentally, he’s a lot stronger than where Jack was at that stage,” Imoo said. “As long as he stays on the positive side of the fence, he’ll come out stronger.”
Ranford wasn’t rattled by this rash of goalie issues, from Quick to Campbell and then illness to Peter Budaj. The Kings were briefly down to only two other goalies under contract in Cole Kehler and Matthew Villalta, and both have been hurt recently.
But “this is the reason we went after Cal when we did,” Ranford said. “We were hoping that this was the type of guy we could get.”
AT ST. LOUIS
When: Monday, 5 p.m. PST
On the air: TV: FSW; Radio: iHeartRadio (LA Kings Audio Network)