Goaltending can make or break a season. Teams with elite athletes between the pipes often find themselves competing for a championship at the end of the year.
Ohio State is no exception.
Redshirt senior goaltender Sean Romeo was one of the crutches that the Buckeyes relied on during their Frozen Four run last season. He allowed just over two goals per game and had a save percentage of .927, No. 3 in the Big Ten and No 9 in the country, starting 37 of the 41 games Ohio State played.
This season, however, has been a different story for Romeo. He’s only started in half of the Buckeyes’ matchups and in his first three games, he allowed 11 goals, saving 81.2 percent of shots sent his way.
Though Romeo has improved as of late, pitching three straight shutouts against Colgate, Notre Dame and Wisconsin, a program record, his struggles early in the season paved the way for sophomore Tommy Nappier to step into the spotlight for Ohio State.
In the seven games Nappier has appeared in, including six starts, he has only allowed eight goals and holds the best save percentage in the nation at .958, along with two shutouts.
While most teams generally put one guy in net for most of their season, associate head coach Steve Miller is familiar with having two dependable players in goal.
“I go back to some of our great Denver teams. We were fortunate at times to have two really good guys who push each other, who challenge each other every day in practice,” Miller said. “You know you got to come and got to be sharp every day. You know there’s another guy there doing the same thing who’s playing at a high level, so I think it’s a real big positive for the guys.”
Beyond the obvious benefits of having two dependable goaltenders, such as having a backup in case the starter goes down, it means less wear and tear on each goalie as the season progresses.
“I feel more rested,” Romeo said. “You know, it’s a lot easier to play one game than two games.”
A duo of rested goalies can pay dividends down the stretch for Ohio State come tournament time when other teams don’t have the same depth in net. Splitting starts has already led to a record-setting stretch for Ohio State between the pipes.
The lone goal given up by Nappier against Wisconsin broke a three-game shutout streak. Ohio State has only given up three goals and has four shutouts in its past six games. The Buckeyes are also the only team in the nation that has multiple goaltenders with at least two shutouts, leading the NCAA with five shutouts..
After Romeo started in almost every game for Ohio State last season, it would be understandable for him to be disappointed after getting his playing time cut in half. But he has taken his reduced playing time in stride and is nothing but supportive of his goaltending counterpart.
“I enjoy going to the rink every day, seeing [Nappier],” Romeo said. “Obviously, we’re competing against each other, but there’s nothing bad. When he’s in I’m cheering for him, I think when I’m in he’s cheering for me, I hope so.”
Nappier shared Romeo’s sentiments, saying that Romeo helps to make him better every day.
Moving forward, there has been no indication from the coaching staff that these plans will change. Barring one goaltender’s play declining as the season goes on, it is expected that they will continue to split starts.
Decisions may change, however, as Ohio State nears the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments in the spring. In high-stakes situations, they will have to decide whether to stick with both their hot hands or go with the veteran leadership that Romeo would bring to a squad trying to return to the Frozen Four.