Jimmy Thomas is a big Sergei Bobrovsky fan, to say the least.
“I’ve always idolized (Bobrovsky),” Thomas said. “His quickness and competitive level, and how happy he always looks out there.”
So when an opportunity to be the emergency goalie behind Bobrovsky, the goalie for the Columbus Blue Jackets, arose, Thomas took it.
Hypothetical: Bobrovsky — God forbid — injures himself during the morning skate before a game. The Cleveland Monsters, Columbus’ minor league affiliate, are on a road trip and are unable to send in a goalie to back up Joonas Korpisalo, now starting in Bobrovsky's place.
Instead, the Blue Jackets are forced to bring in their emergency goalie: Thomas.
Thomas was able to gain responsibility of the position because of a connection at a past team and his production as a Bobcat.
Through years of developmental hockey, Thomas spent a season with the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets U18s — affiliated with the NHL team of the same name — when he played for coach Ed Gingher. Thomas received a message in August from his former coach about the opportunity.
“I was sitting at home one day and I got a text message, and (Gingher) said that the Jackets were looking for an emergency backup and that he threw my name at them,” Thomas said.
The events that transpired after a mere suggestion — which Thomas deemed a long shot — paid off when, a few weeks later, he received a call from the Blue Jackets' front office.
“I received a call from the director of players or somebody like that, and he said, ‘Hey, here’s the deal,’” Thomas said.
“The deal” works like this: Let’s say Columbus hosts a game this Tuesday, and its minor-league affiliate is out of town. Thomas would drive up to Columbus and be in Nationwide Arena as a spectator. If, during the pregame skate, one of the two goalies is injured, Thomas would put the Columbus uniform on and sit on the bench as an NHL goalie.
At the time of the phone call, Thomas was overwhelmed by emotion. Thoughts of sharing the bench with the likes of Nick Foligno, Matt Calvert, Brandon Dubinsky and Seth Jones excite the Waterville native.
“It’s a one-in-a-million shot that you’d get to do that,” Thomas said. “But it’s still pretty cool.”
Thomas’ play as a freshman at Ohio is what helped his case for earning a spot with the Jackets as the emergency goaltender. In his first collegiate game, Thomas shut out Kent State 4-0, solidifying his spot as Ohio’s No. 1 goaltender.
Thomas went on to post a 13-4 record with three shutouts and a .890 save percentage last season. He led the Bobcats — who also had two veteran goaltenders on their roster — to the American Collegiate Hockey Association National Championship, where they lost to Central Oklahoma 3-0.
In preparation for that “one-in-a-million” chance, Thomas has been the Bobcats' rock in net for the 2017-18 season. He leads the nation in minutes and is primed to take Ohio back to the national championship.
“Our goalie is the emergency backup for the NHL team up the road,” coach Sean Hogan said. “It’s a great opportunity.”
Perhaps Thomas’s biggest supporter throughout the season, Hogan has seen Thomas’ transition from third-stringer at Ohio to one of the nation’s best collegiate goalies — and now the deepest reserve possible.
“It’s cool, our players are starting to get more pro opportunities,’’ Hogan said. “People are calling Jake Faiella; obviously, (Alex) Vasquez is a pro. It’s pretty cool that these things are happening.”
“Pretty cool” about sums it up for Thomas. He now can say that he’s a backup for his favorite team and the goalie he idolizes, Bobrovsky.
Kids dream to be able to wear their favorite team’s jersey and play as a pro; for Thomas, he’s one step closer in bringing that dream to life.