Ohio goalie Ryan Heltion beats his hometown Pittsburgh in his first start since Dec. 11.
Ohio goalie Ryan Heltion gritted his teeth when he heard the word “shutout.” Then he collected himself and gave a predictable, team-first response.
“At the end of the day, as long as the boys win, that’s all that matters,” Heltion said.
He acted as if he’d been there before, which he had. It has just been a while.
Playing for the first time in a month and a half, Heltion defended the Bobcats in a 4-1 victory Friday night against Pittsburgh at Bird Arena.
Heltion last played Dec. 11 in a win over Illinois State. He’d sat out eight-straight games since.
Though he’s been mainly watching Aaron Alkema from the bench, Heltion always was dressed in practice and physically prepared to play.
“When it comes down to preparing for a game, it’s more mental,” Heltion said. “I took a little extra time today and kind of focused up.”
Ohio coach Sean Hogan cited "mental toughness" and strength as the reasons Heltion played well. He thought his goalie “was sharp,” despite spending previous weeks on the bench.
Ohio (24-7-1) only allowed 12 shots through to Heltion, and he easily steered aside all but one.
His best save came in the second period when Pittsburgh had an odd-man rush off an Ohio turnover. He made a sprawling toe save with his right skate as he slid to the left side of the net and kept his shutout intact.
Pittsburgh got another quality chance in the third, and a shot that beat Heltion over his left shoulder rung off the crossbar away from the net.
With fewer than three minutes remaining, Pittsburgh later capitalized on an Ohio turnover in the neutral zone. Panthers forward Robert Tritschler fooled Heltion with a fake wrist shot and scored on his backhand over Heltion’s left pad.
“I think we let him down for sure giving up that breakaway at the end of the game,” Hogan said. “You can’t do that, especially when you have a shutout.”
The shutout would’ve been Heltion’s first of the year. Nonetheless, he’s 6-1-1 with an average 1.32 goals let in this season.
But those numbers haven’t been enough for him to keep pace with Alkema for playing time. Heltion’s eight starts are dwarfed by Alkema’s 20.
The goalies have no hard feelings toward each other. Instead, they share a healthy rivalry for playing time.
“I play hockey to compete,” Heltion said. “We’re all out there battling and that’s what makes us better.”
If Heltion, a Pittsburgh native, had chosen to play for his hometown Panthers, he likely would have the starting job all to himself.
He had his chance in 2013 when the Pittsburgh coaching staff contacted him. In high school, Heltion had played under both of the Panthers’ coaches.
A smile crept onto Heltion’s face as he thought about what it would be like to play someplace other than Ohio. He said he couldn’t imagine it.
“I came to OU, toured it and fell in love,” he said. “The rest is history.”