Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Roberto Romano

Before he even really established himself as a NHL quality goalie, Roberto Romano almost quit.

Romano was a late bloomer that the Pittsburgh Penguins had high hopes for. He was never drafted, but was signed as a free agent out of the Quebec junior leagues by the Penguins. He really found his stride playing in the American Hockey League, and earned the call up to the NHL once Michel Dion's game fell apart.

He had spent parts of four seasons playing with the Penguins, but it was his 4th year that he - still classified as a rookie - found a home in the NHL.

The only problem was he was not sure if he wanted to be there.

Before the season was even over in 1984-85, Roberto Romano, at the age of 22, let it be known he was retiring at season's end.

"I did tell (the Penguins) I'm going to retire after the season," he confessed to the media. "I don't know, I just got tired of the whole lifestyle - a lot of traveling.

"Hockey, to me, is not my life. You've got to have the right type of attitude, and I don't. There are too many ups and downs."

Romano was simply frustrated. Playing with those terrible early-1980s Penguins teams could really mess with a goalie's head, as his 15-31-2 record hinted at.

But by training camp Romano was back, fighting for a job. It wasn't easy.

"Roberto put that criticism on himself," opined defenseman Moe Mantha, who was not happy with his departure late in the previous season. "When we needed him to be our No. 1 goalie . . . he let 19 guys on our team down.

"He knows it, and he knows he's going to have to get back the respect of the players. He's faced a couple of high shots in camp, but he's not saying anything.

"I think everybody wants to give Roberto a second chance, but they're not going to hand it to him."

Coach Bob Berry agreed, saying "he has to earn the respect of his fellow players now."

Let's give Romano lots of credit. He faced his critics, and he face his teammates. He won the starting job and had his best season ever. He posted a 21-20-3 record with 2 shutouts and a career best 3.55 GAA.

Now nobody was suddenly comparing Romano to Grant Fuhr or Billy Smith, but Romano earned a lot of respect right around the league that season. He carried it over into the following season, but he actually ended that campaign in another city. He was traded to Boston for Pat Riggin.

He only ever played one game with the Bruins, playing the better part of two seasons in the minor leagues. By 1989 he headed over to Europe to play. With his name he was a natural fit in Italy. After a season with HC Bolzano he found a home with HC Milano. In total he would play 5 full seasons in Italy and even played for the Italian national team at the 1992 World Championships.

Romano left Italy in 1993 and gave North American hockey one more shot. He signed on with the Pittsburgh Penguins again, fully knowing he would play with their AHL farm team in Cleveland. But to everyone's surprise he got called up when both Tom Barrasso and then Ken Wregget were felled by an injury. Romano got into parts of two games, earning the win in one, while posting a 1.44 GAA and .946 save percentage.

It was a great way to end a rocky National Hockey League career.

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