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UNH hockey: Wildcats’ line changes paying off in turnaround

The UNH men’s hockey team wasn’t scoring. And while Dick Umile never strayed from his point that plenty of time remained in the young season, the coach saw that the time was right to make a change.

So on Nov. 1, with the Wildcats about to begin a home-and-home series with UMass Lowell, Umile shook things up. The first and second lines were split up, with Kevin Goumas joining Nick Sorkin and Matt Willows on the second line and Dalton Speelman moving up to play with Grayson Downing and Tyler Kelleher.

It took a while for those changes to register, but the results have been impressive since that night. After two losses, UNH has won five straight and played itself right back into the Hockey East race. The offense, which was dragging the Wildcats down by averaging a measly 2.2 goals per game during a 1-3-1 start, has averaged 4.14 in the games with those lines.

So the changes worked. As for why, it’s a matter of chemistry.

In short, the square and round pegs are going into their respective holes. The idea to pair put Goumas and Downing, the team’s most skilled and creative offensive players, together made sense in theory. But Goumas and Downing are more natural playmakers who prefer to put other players in position to score, and while the freshman Kelleher’s talent is undeniable, he has some work to do before he’s finishing consistently at this level.

Now the skill sets are meshing, and the results are there to prove it. Downing now has his pure scorer in Speelman to complement his game, while Kelleher is able to play with less scoring pressure in this system. Goumas can focus on being a creator and utilizing his superior vision and puck-handling skills with Sorkin (who’s scored five of his seven goals since the lines changed) being so adept at finishing chances near the net and Willows looking more and more like a dangerous sniper with each game.

There’s still work to be done before the Wildcats can completely put their flat start to the season behind them. But finding an offense is certainly a good way to start.

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