UND's Thome delivers in surprise first start
MADISON, Wis.—Peter Thome found out at about 11:30 a.m. Friday morning that he would be making his first collegiate start in the Kohl Center.
UND's starting goaltender Cam Johnson suffered an undisclosed injury during the team's morning skate and was ruled out for the weekend rivalry series against Wisconsin.
Thome texted his parents, who were en route from the Twin Cities to Madison for the game. They immediately called him, stunned at the news that Johnson, who started 75 of the team's last 78 games dating back three seasons, couldn't play and their son was going to make his debut.
Then, Thome went back to the hotel, took a nap, watched a couple of episodes of The Office, pulled up some inspirational quotes on YouTube and prepared for one memorable first collegiate start.
Thome stopped 36 of 38 shots—including 34 in a row to end the game—quieting the jumping and dancing students behind him and lifting UND to a 3-2 win over the Badgers in front of 9,597 in Madison.
Thome, still wearing a plain white helmet because his UND-designed one hasn't come in yet, was the game's surprising No. 1 star.
"I felt all right after morning skate," Thome said. "There wasn't too much time to be nervous. I had a good night sleep from the night before. I had a little nerves, to be honest. It's a big stage for your first college game—the Kohl Center—with a good amount of people. So, I felt a little nervous, but I was confident that if I stuck to my keys and our game plan, we could come out with two points."
After the game, UND coach Brad Berry said he wasn't sure when Johnson will be available again.
"Not a clue," he said. "I would say it's one of those questions where we'll have to get back and evaluation him on a day to day basis. We'll make sure he's taken care of first, then we'll make a decision."
In the meantime, Thome looks fully capable of filling in.
Ironically, Thome made his recruiting visit to UND for a Saturday game in October 2015 against Bemidji State.
On the night before, Johnson sustained a groin injury. With backup Matej Tomek also sidelined with an injury, Matt Hrynkiw was forced into his first start.
Hrynkiw played well and got the win that night, sparking UND's NCAA national championship season.
"It's kind of funny that my first start came about the same way," Thome said. "I had to do what Pups (Hrynkiw) did. It's a next-man up mentality."
Thome didn't see many pucks early in the game.
Wisconsin only had four shots on goal in the first period and two ended up in the back of the net. The first one—an unscreened shot from just inside the blue line—was one he wants back.
But Thome was dialed in during the second and third periods when the Badgers fired 34 shots on goal. He confidently made several outstanding glove saves, allowing UND to open the two-game series with a victory.
UND received a goal from rookie Collin Adams in the first period, a tally from senior captain Austin Poganski in the second and a tiebreaking power-play goal from Nick Jones with 8:56 to go in the third.
On the deciding goal, Jones won a draw clean back to defenseman Hayden Shaw, who slid it over to rookie blue liner Gabe Bast for a one-timer. Jones went to the net and re-directed Bast's shot past Wisconsin goalie Kyle Hayton (29 saves).
The Badgers (6-4) put pressure on UND in the final minutes, but couldn't get anything past Thome.
"He did a good job settling in," Berry said. "He made some huge saves in the third. When you get notified by the head coach that you're starting your first collegiate game at 11:30 a.m. the day of the game. . . I thought he did a good job preparing for the game tonight. He battled and the team did the same."
UND (6-2-1) players said they weren't nervous about Thome stepping in for Johnson, a former All-American and Mike Richter Award finalist.
"We knew he could play goalie," Adams said. "We had confidence in him. And everyone gathered around him and made him feel welcome."
Thome delivered for the Fighting Hawks.
"He played outstanding," Jones said. "He's a battler and he battled a lot tonight."