The second-ranked Ohio State men’s hockey team is on a seven-game winning streak and can capture the Big Ten regular-season title this weekend against visiting Minnesota.
It would be the Buckeyes’ first regular-season conference championship since winning the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in 1972. When asked for the key to his team’s success, coach Steve Rohlik pointed to its depth.
“We never just lean on one guy,” he said Wednesday. “I think that’s been the way our culture has been here, and that’s the way we’re going to continue to go.”
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The Buckeyes’ goaltenders serve as exhibit A. Sean Romeo was a workhorse last year, starting 37 of 41 games with a sterling .927 save percentage in helping Ohio State reach the Frozen Four.
But this season, the senior has shared time with sophomore Tommy Nappier. Romeo plays on Fridays and Nappier on Saturdays.
It’s hard to argue with the results. Romeo is 8-4-2 with a .913 save percentage, including .947 during the winning streak. Nappier is 11-1-2 with a .946 save percentage this year, second-best nationally.
“They’re both doing unbelievably this year,” forward Carson Meyer said. “You look at their numbers and they’re maybe the best tandem in college hockey. It has to be, right? We know if we make a mistake or there’s some type of breakdown, they’re going to bail us out.”
Rohlik said that he and his assistant coaches decided last summer to have the goalies share the crease because Nappier had earned it. Such an arrangement could have been problematic, especially if Romeo sulked.
“It just speaks volumes of his character and who he is,” Rohlik said. “His preparation and his routine is off the charts. What he does every day as far as hockey and the classroom away from the rink speaks volumes for him, not only as a hockey player but as a person.”
Romeo, who participated in the Blue Jackets’ development camp last summer, knew he had to take a mature approach to the new setup.
“It’s not how I saw things happening going into the season, but I can’t control it,” he said. “I just play when I’m told to play.”
He, like Nappier, sees the benefit of sharing time. It keeps both of them fresher and reduces the chance for injury.
“The biggest thing is the team is winning,” Romeo said. “Obviously, with Tommy in net we’ve won a lot. I think everyone’s happy with it.”
It helps that Romeo and Nappier are good friends.
“He’s an awesome kid,” Romeo said. “He’s like my little brother out there.”
Said Nappier, “We love each other and root for each other every night.”
Nappier, a St. Louis native, takes advantage of his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame.
“He’s very controlled,” Romeo said. “He’s obviously a big body and uses his body well. He’s very consistent.”
Ohio State (19-5-4, 12-3-3-2 Big Ten) is 11 points ahead of second-place Michigan. Ohio State would clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title if it earns five points in two games against Minnesota (11-14-4, 8-9-3).