Buckeyes Goaltender Transition Smooth So Far
Sean Romeo Has Fit In After Transfer from Maine
The night before Ohio State plays a game, Sean Romeo puts his phone on airplane mode. He keeps it that way through game day.
“I’m kind of a weirdo on game day,” Romeo said.
Whatever voodoo Romeo uses, from his particular phone habits to general OCD and keeping to himself on gamedays, has been working. The goaltender transfer has started 11 of 12 games for the Buckeyes, helping Ohio State to five wins this young season. He has a save percentage of .924 and filled a gap in the Buckeye net after all three of last season’s goaltenders left.
“Losing three goalies is going to be nervewracking to any team,” captain Mason Jobst said. “The big question mark for us was goaltending coming into this year, but it’s been great to have a guy back there who can play every game, and he’s been standing on his head for us. We’ve put him in some bad situations and he’s been great. We can play more comfortable knowing that we’ve got a guy like that in net and then we’ve got two goalies that can also back him up.”
Ohio State has had odd goaltending mishaps since Steve Rohlik took over as head coach, which started with a string of injuries and departures that forced the third-string goaltender to start. But that was four years ago, and it gave birth to the eventual tandem of Matt Tompkins and Christian Frey, which guarded the net for the next three seasons until last year’s graduation.
While the Buckeyes were saying goodbye to Tomkins and Frey, they were welcoming Romeo — who was joining the team after sitting out the 2016-17 season as a transfer. He last played in 2015-16, when he appeared in two games for Maine. As a freshman in 2014-15, Romeo posted a .902 save percentage over 23 games.
Romeo stumbled onto Ohio State by chance, as his search for a new school led him to then-assistant coach Joe Exter, who now serves on Michigan State’s staff.
After the 2015-16 season he transferred to Ohio State, which is roughly 1,000 miles from Orono, and has a student population of nearly six times that of the University of Maine.
“Things weren’t working out for me at Maine; I started talking to a few of my buddies and luckily I reached out to a few Youngstown (junior) guys who are here, ended up getting in contact with Joe Exter," Romeo said. "Then after the season I came out on a visit and fell in love with the place.”
The biggest adjustment for Romeo to Ohio State, though, wasn’t the large size of the school or the difference between Columbus and Orono.
“Football,” Romeo said. “I’ve never been a big football fan and here you got to bleed for it. … I’m always used to hockey being the biggest team, then you come here and football rules everything, so that was a big change for me.”
Off the ice, Romeo has still stayed out of the football world, attending just two games. But on the ice he’s using his skating skills to move around the net and better help his team. It helped him limit Connecticut to just one goal Saturday night as the teams skated to a 1-1 tie.
“I thought he played great,” Jobst said. “We left him out to dry a couple of times and he made the big saves when he needed to. It was an unfortunate bounce on the last goal, there’s not much he could’ve done about that, but I thought he played really well.”
Romeo’s performance included him holding off a flurry of shots late in the third period and into overtime, as the Huskies tied the game and tried to win.
“Sean’s gone out there and gave us a chance every night,” Rohlik said. “He’s playing great, solid hockey and I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s a tremendous individual, he works extremely hard, he’s very focused.”
While Romeo has been a solid starting point in net, the goaltender is trying to work on his consistency. Although the Buckeyes have been winning, Romeo, at times, has posted in-game save percentages of less than .900. He also wants to improve his puck-handling skills so he can better help his defense.
“They’ve been so good,” Romeo said of the defense. “I couldn’t be happier with them. Our coach [Steve] Miller came in and kind of changed a few things around. I think our team really bought in and our defense has been awesome. I think our numbers have shown and they’ve just made my job a lot easier, that’s for sure.”
Speaking of defense, it’s become a characteristic of the Buckeyes this season. While Ohio State is normally known for its speedy, run-and-gun offense, the Buckeyes have limited opponents to just two goals per game, tied for fifth in the country.
“[In] our systems we’ve changed some things up and just tried to work more on the defensive end maybe a little less of the run-and-gun type game,” Jobst said. “We just feel that we can probably win more hockey games if we’re better defensively. Not that it’s taking away from our offense. It’s still early in the year, but we’re hoping a good defense will lead to a good offense.”