BOSTON – Kevin Goumas can see the finish line. He’d do anything he can not to cross it just yet.
In the second Hockey East semifinal Friday night, Goumas was the star, scoring two goals to lead New Hampshire to a 3-1 victory over Providence that put the Wildcats back in the conference championship game for the first time in seven years, with a chance to win their first title since 2003.
For the senior from Long Beach, N.Y., who has been a fixture in the UNH lineup for four years, the performance was a chance to ensure his college career would last at least one more night.
“It’s been on my mind the last week or so,” he said after the game. “The way I’ve been playing and taking it is just going out and making sure it’s not my last game. We want to take care of business here in Hockey East first, and get one more chance to go to the NCAA Tournament, so, just trying to leave it all out there on the ice.”
Goumas led the Wildcats in scoring last year, and was among the team leaders in his sophomore year, but his swan song season has been the finest of his UNH career. His 33 assists and 52 points both lead the Wildcats, and have him third among Hockey East point scorers this year. He’s been a steady performer throughout the season, scoring points in 27 of his 39 games played so far.
But it’s really the last two months when Goumas has poured it on. Over the last 13 games, including Friday night’s semifinal, Goumas has collected 9 goals and 15 assists, and was held off the scoresheet just once in that whole stretch. He scored a hat trick in last weekend’s clinching Game 3 against Northeastern, and added an assist as UNH punched its ticket to return to the Garden.
Causeway Street is one place where Goumas has some unfinished business. The Wildcats missed out on trips to TD Garden in each of the last two seasons, after losing to Merrimack in the 2011 semifinals. That includes quarterfinal losses to BU in 2012 and Providence in 2013. So Saturday night’s game is Goumas’ one and only shot at winning the Hockey East title as a player, and on Friday, he did anything he could to make sure he got that chance.
His first goal came shorthanded with a little less than 13 minutes to go in the second period, on a slick wraparound to put the Wildcats on the board first.
“If you’re going to beat (Providence goaltender Jon) Gillies (South Portland, Maine), you’re not going to beat him with one clean play,” said UNH coach Dick Umile (Melrose, Mass.). “There’s no doubt about it, we were trying to get him to move. Kevin went for a great move with the wraparound that, knowing him, that was his plan. I know he got forced wide, but he knew what he was doing.
Where that goal showed his clever offensive skill, the second goal was an example of his unwillingness to give up on plays. He tried to feed a cross to linemate Nick Sorkin with the final seconds ticking off the clock in the second period. The pass was blocked, but Goumas quickly grabbed the loose puck and stuffed another wraparound under Providence goaltender Jon Gillies, giving UNH a 3-0 lead with four tenths of a second to go in the middle period.
“I knew (the time) was getting down pretty close,” Goumas said. “I didn’t know it was that close.”
Sorkin and winger Matt Willows have been big beneficiaries of Goumas’ career year. Sorkin is the only Wildcat with more goals (20) than Goumas’ 19, while Willows has scored 18. Both of Goumas’ linemates have 21 assists.
“Kevin’s obviously an amazing player,” Willows said. “He gives 110 percent every time, and we wouldn’t expect anything less from him.”
Nor should they. With a little more than 13 minutes to go in the game, after Providence’s Kevin Rooney (Canton, Mass.) had cut the UNH lead to 3-1, Goumas was at the end of a long shift, and saw that the puck was heading out of the offensive zone on the far side after one of UNH’s many offensive flurries. He started to head over to the bench for a change. But then defenseman Matias Cleland managed to hold the puck in at the blue line, and Goumas lost almost no speed in turning 180 degrees to go back to the net, where he nearly redirected another puck past Gillies for what would have been his second hat trick in as many games.
Goumas’ emergence over the last two years has sparked a lot of good things for UNH, but he’s hardly been a hidden gem to Umile. Even in Goumas’ freshman season, when he was ninth on the team with 18 points, Umile often mentioned him in postgame interviews whether he’d scored or not.
Umile saw then what the rest of the Hockey East universe is seeing now.
“He’s one of the smartest hockey players that I’ve ever coached,” said Umile, whose alumni roster includes such luminaries as Jason Krog, Steve Leach, and James van Riemsdyk. “He’s always around the puck, he’s a step ahead in anything that he does. It’s not by accident that he forechecks and steals pucks – he knows the next step. He’s just a tremendous, clever hockey player that can make other players very good players, and he’s done that for Nick Sorkin and Matty Willows this year.”
The Wildcats need at least one more big performance from Goumas Saturday night, and if all goes well, they’ll return to the NCAA Tournament. That means one more game, and one more chance to push that finish line a little further down the road.