Just like his cousin, Peter Thome jumps right in at UND
Jeff Dodson distinctly remembers Andrew Thome's first-career start.
It came at national baseball power Wichita State, which had gone to seven College World Series and won an NCAA national championship under legendary coach Gene Stephenson, who sat in the opposing dugout.
Thome was a young, freshman pitcher from St. Cloud.
"In warmups, guys are usually throwing 83 or 84 mph, just getting the feel of the strike zone," said Dodson, the former UND baseball coach. "Thome's out there throwing 88-89. I'm looking at my assistant coaches, J.C. Field and Brian DeVillers, like, 'What's going on?' Then, he goes out there in his first game and touches 95.
"He was never intimidated by any team or anything like that."
So, count Dodson on the list of people not surprised by last weekend's developments in the hockey rink.
Thome's younger cousin, Peter, made a surprise first collegiate start—in a different sport—in a similarly intimidating venue, the Kohl Center, against another national power, Wisconsin.
Stepping in for starter Cam Johnson, who was injured earlier in the day during morning skate, Thome turned in a 35-save performance to lift UND to a 3-2 win Friday. On the next night, he stopped 22 more shots in a 2-2 tie, earning National Collegiate Hockey Conference goalie of the week honors.
"That fist pump he gave at the end of Friday's game completely reminded me of Andrew," said Dodson, who watched the game from Grand Forks. "Just a competitor. It was really good to see, to be honest with you."
For at least another weekend, Thome will be UND's starter.
Johnson has been ruled out for this weekend's series against Miami University (7:37 p.m. Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday, Ralph Engelstad Arena), and no timeline has yet been set for his return.
In the meantime, the No. 2-ranked Fighting Hawks proved that they can win with the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Thome, who showed glimpses of the same attributes that led his cousin to being one of UND's best baseball players of all time: size, athleticism, competitiveness and the ability to handle a big stage.
"What I saw over the weekend is that he's a gamer," UND senior forward Johnny Simonson said. "In the big moments of the game, he was there to make those great saves. I think that's what I was the most impressed with—his ability to come up big at the right times."
While there are no hockey players in Peter's immediate family—his older brothers John and George were cross-country and alpine skiers—Andrew did play hockey at St. Cloud Cathedral, where he was teammates with current UND captain Austin Poganski.
Andrew chose the baseball route, though. Last year, he reached Triple-A in the World Series champion Houston Astros organization—one step away from being UND's first Major League Baseball player ever.
Peter chose hockey.
In his younger ages, his parents, Mark and Anne, let him join a park board team. But for Peter that wasn't enough. When he was about 8 or 9, he demanded to play "real hockey."
He worked his way from the 'C' team as a peewee to the 'A' team as a bantam. Thome then played two years for a midget team in Chicago, one year in the North American Hockey League and last year in the United States Hockey League.
Thome was expected to backup Johnson for much of this season, but things changed suddenly last weekend.
A surprise start
After coach Brad Berry told Thome that he would be starting, Johnson approached him in the locker room and let him know he was there if he needed to chat. Teammates were lurking, though, and Thome told Johnson it's no big deal.
Back at the hotel, Johnson texted Thome again, that he was there if he needs to come by and chat about the start.
"He was great about it," Thome said. "Knowing he was there for me was really nice."
Still wearing his blank, white mask from junior hockey—his UND cage hasn't arrived yet—Thome stepped into a starring role on the first night.
"He's competitive," Berry said. "He's a worker. Whether he knows he's going to be playing in a game or whether he knows he's going to be backup up Cam, he works his tail off. Guys in the locker room love him. They want to battle for him as you saw in Wisconsin. We didn't give up a shot for seven minutes. That shows you the mentality of the guys in front of him. They want to play for him. He's a very humble and respectful guy."
Thome said he's trying not to change a lot this week as he prepares to take on his mother's alma mater, Miami University.
"I'm just trying to do the same things I typically do every day, trying not to get too wrapped up in who we're playing or the fact that I'm going to be in net," Thome said. "I'm just doing what I've been doing for the last month and a half here."