Like many freshmen, Jimmy Thomas didn’t know where the library was.
As a new student, he has plenty to figure out.
But Thomas, a goalie for the Bobcats, has support. Within his new group of teammates is an even closer group: the goalies.
Thomas joins seniors Aaron Alkema and Ryan Heltion as the newest member of the team’s most exclusive clique.
“Goalies are a different kind of breed,” Heltion said. “The rumors are true.”
Even when the whole team hangs out, the goalies in particular like to stay together. That means anything from studying together at the library to doing their own thing at a team-wide taco night.
The special bond, what Heltion called the “Goalie Union," is based on a mutual level of respect and understanding that goalies have for one another.
“You can play hockey forever, but if you’ve never played goalie you don’t really understand the way it feels and what it’s like,” Heltion said.
They know how to handle a teammate who had a rough start in net. They compliment each other’s gear. Sometimes, they even silently root for opposing goalies. It’s all part of the Union.
“Yeah, goalies are their own weird people,” Thomas said.
So far, Thomas is happy to be part of the weirdness in Athens. He chose Ohio ahead of some NCAA Division III schools because of Ohio's business program, as well as the fact that he knew practically every other incoming freshman one way or another.
And while Thomas is the new kid in the crease, Ohio coach Sean Hogan has made it clear that all three netminders will get a chance to play early on.
“We need to make sure that we’re strong there (in net) every single night and we’ll go with whoever that guy is,” Hogan said. “Whether it’s a freshman or a senior, they’re going to have to earn it.”
Hogan has yet to see Thomas in a true game setting, as he didn't play in either of the team's wins against John Carroll. But what Hogan has seen of his new goalie on film impresses him.
“He’s not leaky, in terms of when the puck hits him,” Hogan said. “He’s going to eat up all the rebounds.”
Heltion noted Thomas’ confidence and quickness in practice so far, as well as his flexibility.
“He can just throw the splits out whenever,” Heltion said. “I used to be able to do that, but as you get older, you kinda have to stretch out a bit more.”
Even with an early audition, Thomas will likely take a back seat to the seniors most of the season. Alkema and Heltion have started more than 90 percent of Ohio’s games the past three seasons.
That’s no problem for Thomas, who views Alkema and Heltion as role models. They’ve welcomed him into their tightly knit group and will help him grow as an athlete and as a student.
That way, when the seniors are gone next year, Thomas will be ready to take over.
“Obviously next year, cannot wait,” he said. “I’ll be the only returning goalie. (Coach Hogan) will obviously bring in a couple new ones, but hopefully it’s my net to take next year.”