Imagine, as a student, that you have to take a test every Friday.
You begin preparation each Monday, getting yourself as ready as you can be for the challenge soon to come — but there’s a catch.
Your professor tells you that your Friday tests will only be given if he says so. He might give you the test, he might not.
You just have to be ready.
This has been the case for Ohio State junior goaltenders Christian Frey and Matt Tomkins for the better part of the past two seasons.
Frey’s journey at OSU began midway through the 2013-14 season after Collin Olson left the program and Tomkins was injured.
The emergency call-up proved successful, as Frey would end up backstopping the Buckeyes to the championship of the inaugural Big Ten Tournament.
Heading into the 2015-16 campaign, Frey carries a record of 18-16-5 accompanied with a 2.72 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.
Tomkins has had his own shining moments throughout the course of his OSU career.
Through 31 games played, the 2012 Chicago Blackhawks draftee has a record of 11-14-3 complemented by a 3.01 goals against average, a .897 save percentage and two shutouts.
Since Frey’s arrival on campus, the man between the pipes in Game 1 of the typical Friday-Saturday matchups for the Scarlet and Gray is decided on Thursday after a full week of practice is completed.
It’s not an uncommon situation for a collegiate team to utilize two goalies throughout the season.
Fortunately for Frey and Tomkins, they’re in a comfortable routine, as this has been the status quo for a while now.
“It’s the way things are,” Tomkins said. “It kind of gives you an opportunity when you don’t know throughout the week to prove yourself. It feels like you have an opportunity to maybe change the coaches’ minds a little bit.”
OSU assistant coach Joe Exter is entering his fifth season with the Buckeyes. He coached former OSU goaltender Brady Hjelle to first-team All-American accolades in 2012-13, the first Buckeye to be named to the first team since 1998.
A former netminder for Merrimack College and the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL, Exter knows the mindsets of his goalies better than anyone. He said he expects them to be ready to go, playing or not, and he understands their situation from a mental aspect.
“We anticipate having a good goaltender once we step on the ice each game,” Exter said. “They’re human. They know that there’s one net. We’re not writers, we’re goaltenders. If you want the script to play out the way you feel or the way you hope, you better focus and take care of your job.”
So what’s the secret to being on top of your game when you’re unaware if you have the starting job?
“Acting every day as if you’re going to be the starter is key to consistency, and even if you’re not in, you still have to be ready,” Frey said. “When the other guy’s in, we’re right there cheering for him, hoping he does well, and when I’m in, he’s cheering for me and hoping I do well.”
That relationship and the camaraderie between Frey and Tomkins allows the system to flow as smoothly as a one-on-one battle can.
Whoever gets the nod for that first game of the weekend welcomes the challenge, but he also knows how quickly things can change.
“Obviously you’re hoping to hear that you’re playing every Thursday, so when you do hear that, that you’re going to be the guy going on Friday night, it’s exciting, but at the same time you have to keep an even keel,” Tomkins said. “You can’t get too high when you’re playing and too low when you’re not.”
Once again, it all comes back to just being ready.
“If Thursday comes and you’re not the guy going on Friday, you still have to prepare on Friday and on Saturday as if you were going,” Tomkins said. “You never know.”
Either Tomkins or Frey is set to make the first start of the year when OSU opens the regular season at home against Bowling Green on Oct. 9. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.