By MARK GARBINO
The Wildcats have found themselves one of the most dangerous offensive duos in all of Hockey East.
Junior right wing Tyler Kelleher and sophomore center Andrew Poturalski are both off to red-hot starts to the season on UNH’s second line. Their offensive numbers are staggering enough to make them two of the top three scorers in the conference, along with Dennis Kravchenko of the University of Massachusetts.
After exploding offensively in his sophomore season to lead the team in assists (24) and points (42), Kelleher is on pace to exceed those numbers this season. Through eight games, the Longmeadow, Massachusetts native once again leads the Wildcats in assists and points. He has accumulated four goals and 11 assists, for 15 points and an average of 1.88 points per game.
Kelleher’s numbers are enough for a tie with Kravchenko for the Hockey East lead in points, and sole possession of first in assists in not only the conference, but the nation. He is also tied for the conference lead in power play points with seven, matching Boston University’s Danny O’Regan.
Poturalski is right behind Kelleher on the stat sheet, totaling six goals and eight assists, for 14 points and an average of 1.75 points per game. The offensively gifted center was impressive in his rookie season, finishing fourth on the team in scoring with 14 goals and 29 points.
Poturalski now plays an even larger role in the UNH offense, with more of the responsibility being placed on his shoulders after the graduation of three of last year’s top five scorers.
The Williamsville, New York native does not seem phased by the added pressure, to no surprise of Kelleher, who praised his work ethic.
“He [Poturalski] works harder than anyone I know,” said Kelleher.
The hard work is paying off, and Poturalski’s numbers speak for themselves. He ranks in Hockey East’s top five in goals, assists, total points, and power play points. His three power play goals put him in a four-way tie for first in the conference.
Kelleher and Poturalski’s similar playing styles have led to strong chemistry between them that is translating onto the scoreboard. Their tallies combined are responsible for nearly one third of the team’s total goals so far this season.
“We both like a puck possession game,” said Poturalski. “We don’t like to dump and chase. We both like to make skilled plays, and we see each other well in the offensive zone.”
Both Kelleher and Poturalski are offensive-minded players who use speed and skillful stickhandling to their advantage. At 5-foot-6-inches tall and 160 pounds, Kelleher is very agile in the offensive zone and uses his skating ability to create space for passes.
“My first look is to make a pass,” said Kelleher. “I like to pass the puck, and I think I can score when I get the chance. I like to be quick and use my vision out there.”
The main area of his game that Kelleher said he wants to improve on is his strength, as he is one of the smaller players on the ice on any given shift.
“Every day I’m just trying to get stronger so I can fight off checks,” he said.
Poturalski considers himself a playmaker as well, but he is also a proficient shooter. His quick, accurate shot is a perfect fit with Kelleher’s knack for threading passes.
In order to be a complete, well-rounded hockey player, it is important to be strong in all areas of the ice.
Poturalski admits that he needs to work on the defensive zone aspects of his game.
“Coach [Umile] has been on me, and we’ve been working all year on that,” he said. “I think that’s a big area of improvement for me, and if I want to play at the next level, that’s something I’ve got to get better at.”
If either Kelleher or Poturalski can keep up their scoring rate for the rest of the season, they will have a solid chance at finishing as the top scorer in Hockey East. No UNH player has led the conference in scoring since the 2004-2005 season, when Sean Collins earned the distinction. The same season UNH also featured the conference’s second-highest scorer, as Preston Callander finished second.
This year’s Wildcat tandem has the potential to replicate Collins’ and Callander’s feat and sweep both the top spots in Hockey East, but for now, the duo are downplaying their individual success.
“I’d say [our] line is clicking,” Kelleher said. “We’re just finding ways to put the puck in the net so far and it’s working.”