Blyth native Justin Peters named Ottawa Senators' goaltending coach
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Blyth native, National Hockey League (NHL) veteran and Olympic bronze medalist Justin Peters has been named the goaltending coach for the Ottawa Senators.
This comes after Peters has spent over three years as the goaltending coach for the Belleville Senators, Ottawa’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate. In February of 2021, Peters took on the coaching job after playing hockey professionally for over 15 seasons and earning a bronze medal as a member of the Canadian men’s national hockey team at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.
He had been playing hockey as recently as the 2019/2020 season in the Czech Republic. At the time, he had considered making the 2020/2021 season his last, but the COVID-19 pandemic turning the sports world upside down pushed him to transition to a coaching role earlier than planned. He considered himself lucky to land one with such a prestigious organization almost immediately.
Speaking to The Citizen on Wednesday morning, Peters said he was clearly excited when he was presented with an opportunity to return to the NHL in a coaching capacity. That had been a goal of his since he entered the world of coaching and now it’s become a reality.
Peters replaces Zac Bierk, who has been reassigned to a scouting position. This announcement comes at a time of great transition for the Ottawa Senators, with a new owner coming aboard late last year and the head and assistant coaches being fired less than a month ago.
The Senators are ranked 31st (of 32 teams) in save percentage and 30th in goals-against average in the NHL. Peters will be working with goaltender Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg, who is currently injured. As a result, Mads Sogaard, with whom Peters has worked for several seasons in Belleville, has been called up. He played on Tuesday night for the Senators, ending the game on the wrong end of a 7-4 score.
“Zac is exceptionally dedicated,” said the Ottawa Senators’ General Manager and President of Hockey Operations Steve Staios in a statement. “ However, it is our belief that the time has come for a fresh perspective. Justin Peters is highly regarded and will bring strong leadership qualities to our group. He is deserving of this opportunity.”
Given the instability with the club and its goaltending woes of late, Peters told The Citizen that his early goals will be to win hockey games and instill a sense of stability within the goaltending department, regardless of the change and uncertainty surrounding them. That begins, he said, with really getting to know the goaltenders, discovering what makes them tick and establishing a relationship with them that he hopes will produce positive results on the ice.
Peters says there is always a bit of nerves when he walks into a new locker room, especially in the middle of the season, but many of the faces are familiar to him thanks to his years with Belleville and being called up to assist in Ottawa, so he feels he’s hitting the ground running. And hit the ground running he has, as he returned to Ottawa late on Monday and spent Tuesday in meetings and being brought aboard ahead of the team’s game with the Colorado Avalanche that night. He hopes to be able to catch his breath and settle into a rhythm soon.
As for the world of coaching, Peters says he knew rather early on that he wanted to try his hand at coaching when his playing days were over. He felt he might be a good candidate because he has always been a student of the goaltending position, studying and learning whenever he can. Furthermore, he says he’s always liked “the grind” of playing and being on the road, which he knows will be part of his life now as a coach.
In fact, he says the role has given him a greater appreciation for his coaches when he was still playing. So many decisions are made for players, he said, and so much of the job is staying in good shape and being where you’re told you need to be... and on time. Meanwhile, the coaches are there before the players making decisions and providing guidance and staying well after the players retire for the evening. That, he said, was a real eye-opener for him.
Peters played in 83 NHL games split between the Carolina Hurricanes, the Washington Capitals and the Arizona Coyotes. He ended his career with a save percentage of just over .900 and a goals-against average of just over three.
Peters played four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, with the majority of his time being spent with the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors. He then split several seasons between the AHL and the ECHL, playing nearly 500 games between the three leagues.
He was also a bronze medalist for Canada in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, serving as the national team’s third goalie. This came at a time when Peters was spending his final few seasons as a player abroad as a member of teams in Germany, Latvia and the Czech Republic, all while his young twins were growing up back in Mississauga.
Looking back, Peters told The Citizen, highlights of his career begin in his junior hockey career with the Huron-Perth Lakers and being drafted into the OHL – his first shot at professional hockey. The joy he had, joined with that of his friends and family, is something he’ll always remember.
Another memory that will never leave him was when he was drafted into the NHL. The sense of accomplishment in getting drafted into the best hockey league in the world, he said, was amazing. Plus, he will never forget returning to Blyth after being drafted and being greeted by a parade of supporters in Blyth and fire trucks on the highway celebrating what he had accomplished.
Another career highlight will always be having his first start in the NHL in Long Island, New York, making 34 saves and earning a 3-1 victory for the Carolina Hurricanes over the New York Islanders. He also remembers playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto for the first time, bringing together many friends and family members from Blyth.
The icing on the cake of his career, he said, was being asked to be part of the Canadian Olympic squad in 2018. Earning a medal in those games, he said, is something he will always have, giving him something he can share with his children and grandchildren one day.
Reflecting on his playing career, Peters said one constant source of pride and encouragement was the support he always received from the Blyth and Huron County communities. Whether it was in his younger days in junior hockey or his professional career, the community always supported him, and for that he will be forever grateful.
When he would play games within a few hours of Huron County, he said he would always see familiar faces in the stands or after the game. When people couldn’t make it to games, he knew they were watching at home, keeping in touch and always pushing him forward.
The Senators played the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday and are next in action against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, Jan. 20 at 3 p.m. before taking on the Philadelphia Flyers the next day at 1 p.m.