City of Dreams
Romig Continues Unlikely Story, Opens Scoring in Denver Rout
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He certainly wasn't supposed to play 135 games for the one of the most storied programs in college hockey, or grow into one of head coach Jim Montgomery's most trusted players.
Indeed, Emil Romig's story could very easily have been much different. And the alternate version doesn't include the now-senior playing for a national championship in less than 48 hours.
Romig was born to parents Josef and Sibylle in Vienna, Austria, on Sep. 19, 1992. Acclaimed for its rich history of music, Vienna is also the "City of Dreams" — as the original home to the one Sigmund Freud.
In Vienna, Romig's dreams of playing hockey began — somewhat serendipitously, as these stories often do.
"It's a small sport in Austria," Romig said. "It's not big at all. I got into it randomly. I met a kid on a public ice rink, and we became friends. Then I found out he was playing hockey, and my parents asked me if I wanted to try it out."
Soon, Romig was insatiable. Seeking opportunities beyond what his home country could provide, Romig traveled — first to the Czech Republic, then to junior teams in North America.
Serendipitously again, Romig's path crossed with Montgomery's — with Romig playing for the Indiana Ice that knocked the Montgomery-coached Dubuque Saints out of the USHL playoffs in 2012. Romig had 18 points in 57 games for the Ice that season but seemed to make an impression in the postseason on Montgomery.
Over a year later, Romig had completed a season in the lower-tier NAHL, with Corpus Christi. Now, with his junior eligibility expired, he had limited options. Primarily, the choice was to return to Austria, where he had already applied to universities, or to reach out to one or two NCAA coaches.
Montgomery had just accepted the head coaching position at Denver.
"I had a good year in the NAHL, and after that, I didn't really know what I was going to do because I didn't have any great offers on the table," Romig said. "So I just reached out to a couple of coaches. I had played against Monty in the USHL, so I was just hoping he would remember me. I don't know why he would. So I sent him an email, and he was the only coach who got back to me. And it was within a day, and he said, 'give me a call.'"
Added Montgomery, "It's incredible, especially having watched him as a young man just mature and become such an integral part of our team. When I think about the email — you can take risks when you take over a program, but I knew him, and I knew he was going to be a really good college hockey player. And we were just very fortunate that he was available."
Romig's story took another plot twist last season, when he broke his leg during a fluke play against North Dakota early in the season. Romig's memory of the incident isn't the fracture itself, the rehab, or the surgery — but the feeling that maybe everything he had worked for had come to a sudden end.
"In the moment, I thought I was done," said Romig. "I had a slow start to the season, and then I broke my leg. So when I was laying on the ice, I thought I was done playing hockey."
Fast forward to present day, and the setting was Chicago's United Center and the NCAA Frozen Four.
With just over eight minutes played in Thursday's second national semifinal, Romig received a pass behind the goal line from sophomore Colin Staub. Romig glided over the goal line to Notre Dame goaltender Cal Petersen's left, and the left-handed fourth-line forward fired a wrist shot over Peterson's right shoulder.
"It started with the line that was out before us, our freshman line with Borgstrom, McLellan, and Finlay," Romig described. "They were just dominating for a minute and a half in their end, and then they chipped the puck out. We got on the ice and went right back to work. We controlled the puck for I think another 30 seconds. I went around the net, and I thought the goalie try to swipe his stick to knock the puck away, and then I just tried to get it on the net. I guess I got lucky."
The goal put Denver up 1-0. It allayed fears that Peterson could be near-unbeatable — "I was starting to get worried that we weren't capitalizing on our opportunities, and Peterson was maybe going to get into our hands," Montgomery said of the shift before — and most importantly, it sent the Pioneers on their way to an eventual 6-1 win.
Perhaps more than anything, the goal set the tone.
Now, Romig and the Pioneers stand one step away from the ultimate goal, having secured a spot opposite NCHC rival Minnesota-Duluth in the 2017 national title game.
This is Romig's story now — re-written by the Austrian himself.
At one time, it was never supposed to happen.