Peter Thome spent the last four years as the backup goalie at UND.
He showed unwavering support and genuine joy for the starter's successes whether it was Cam Johnson in 2017-18 or Adam Scheel the last three years. He developed a reputation for his ability to come into the lineup whenever needed -- no matter how long he had been off -- and winning important games.
But now, it's Thome's chance to take center stage.
The UND goaltender will transfer to use his fifth and final year of college eligibility at the University of St. Thomas, where he is set to usher the St. Paul-based school into its Division-I era.
"This is a great opportunity to play some games and be a part of history, the first Division-I team in St. Thomas history," Thome said. "That's pretty cool. Honestly, I'm really excited."
St. Thomas will begin Division-I play next season as a member of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, which also will feature Bemidji State, Minnesota State-Mankato, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech.
Rico Blasi, who spent 20 years as the head coach at Miami University and led the RedHawks to a pair of NCAA Frozen Fours, was named head coach at St. Thomas on Tuesday. Within 48 hours of his introductory press conference, he offered a scholarship to Thome, who entered the transfer portal last month looking for an opportunity to be a No. 1 goaltender.
"Obviously, nothing is guaranteed," Thome said. "I have to earn it and be the goalie I can. That's obviously on me. I've got to be ready and I will be, for sure. I'm excited to potentially have that opportunity, but nothing is guaranteed in hockey. I've got to perform. I've got to play my game. I'm looking forward to putting in a good summer of work, showing up with a great attitude and leading by example, too, and hopefully win some games for the Tommies."
Thome committed to St. Thomas one day after Bemidji State goaltender Zach Driscoll announced he was transferring to UND to play his fifth year in 2021-22. Driscoll, who has starred for the Beavers the last three seasons and was named a Mike Richter Award finalist as a junior, is the presumed starter for the Fighting Hawks next season.
Thome, a sixth-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2016, played 42 games during his four seasons at UND, posting a .903 save percentage and a 2.24 goals-against average.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound goaltender from Minneapolis was first sent into action unexpectedly on Nov. 3, 2017, when starting goalie Cam Johnson suffered an injury during morning skate at Wisconsin's Kohl Center. Thome, jumping into his first college game in front of the hostile crowd in Madison, stopped 36 of 38 shots and led the Fighting Hawks to a 3-2 win.
That became a theme throughout his career.
While Thome never started a majority of games in any season, he was called upon in all four years at UND.
As a freshman, he started for a month when Johnson was rehabbing his injury. As a sophomore, Thome started the last eight games after Scheel suffered a season-ending injury at Western Michigan.
As a junior, Thome didn't play at all in the first half of the season, but stepped in when Scheel's play slipped in the second half. Thome started nine games down the stretch, going 7-1-1 with a .937 save percentage, steering the Fighting Hawks to the Penrose Cup as National Collegiate Hockey Conference regular-season champions. Thome likely would have been the starter for the playoff run, but the season was canceled one day before the postseason due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This season, Scheel was outstanding all year, earning NCHC goalie of the year honors. But when Scheel suffered an injury against Denver in February, Thome jumped in again and earned a key victory en route to a second-straight Penrose Cup.
"I came to UND with the aspiration to be the starting goalie," Thome said. "That obviously didn't happen for one reason or another. . . Scheeler played really well. There were key opportunities, key moments for me that didn't go as well as I could have liked. That obviously is going to sting, but that's the way the road is, especially at a place like UND, where you have two starting-caliber goalies at all times. There's not a lot of margin for error."
'It's so special to be a part of something like this'
Thome came to UND with classmates Jordan Kawaguchi, Collin Adams, Grant Mismash, Matt Kiersted, Gabe Bast and Josh Rieger. They became the second class in program history to remain together for all four years without losing a single member early. They added Jackson Keane to their class after the NCAA removed a year of his eligibility for starting full-time college classes early.
Thome said he's grateful he got to spend four years at UND.
"You're playing for something bigger than yourself in front of the best fans in all of college hockey," Thome said. "When you come in as a freshman, you don't totally get it. The older you get, the more you kind of get it. I'm happy I was able to play all four years and truly understand what it means to be a part of this program. I just feel lucky I got all four years, that I didn't try to jump the gun last year and transfer. It's such an honor. Even though I'm going to be playing for another school, coach (Brad) Berry said, 'You're a part of the family. You're always welcome back here.' That's pretty special."
Thome said the hardest part about leaving UND is that he won't share a locker room next season with so many players he views as family members.
"It's been a dream come true," Thome said. "In the last week, we all got together to watch Kiers play his first game. We got together to watch Guch and Scheeler play their first pro game. I'm sure we're going to get together to watch Shane (Pinto) and JBD (Jacob Bernard-Docker), too.
"I'm grateful for the coaches giving me the opportunity, for all of the volunteers, assistants. . . KG and Jax (Karl Goehring and Dane Jackson) are two of the best people you'll ever met. . . Pooly (athletic trainer Mark Poolman) and everyone in the program. The thing I'm going to remember the most is the friendships and the family I've gained here with my classmates and every single guy that has worn the jersey with me. It's so special to be a part of something like this."