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Gophers Hockey: On contrasting ways to gain hockey chemistry

Where one of Minnesota's most experienced lines was reunited for the first time since October, a similar pairing of forwards continues to stay apart on separate lines. Both have worked.

Taylor Cammarata (13) had 1G-2A in a series split with Penn State after being reunited with Justin Kloos
Taylor Cammarata (13) had 1G-2A in a series split with Penn State after being reunited with Justin Kloos
Matt Christians/SBN College Hockey

Hockey chemistry is a sought-after skill, an ever-ongoing science experiment put on by coaches to find the best combination of scorers and defenders.

Individuals can only go so far alone in a team sport where the "team" aspect is preached almost to the point of overkill.

What makes for good chemistry? Minnesota freshman forward Tommy Novak believes it is a three weekend process. By the end of that time, he says, he knows where guys like to be on the ice and how to play off of one another.

"I think sometimes it's really easy with some guys. Some guys are different players. I think it all depends on the type of player you are, the type of player they are as to how long it takes," he said. "Obviously you get better the longer it goes no matter who it is."

In some cases players pride themselves on being able to step up in a pinch and play on any line with anyone. Other players find confidence in being with the same pairing, with the same group of players. There's something unspoken about playing with a linemate who shares chemistry that raises their game. It's obvious on the ice.

Taylor Cammarata is one player who falls in the latter category.

Cammarata, a junior forward for the Gophers, entered last weekend with a paltry eight points in 25 games this season after the playmaker finished fourth a season ago. Reunited with center Justin Kloos in a last ditch effort by head coach Don Lucia to get the slumping scorer going down the stretch, the Plymouth, MN native did just that. He had 3 points (1G-2A) in two games against Penn State along with a potential goal waved off.

"We're just trying to find enough chemistry throughout three lines where there's a threat," Lucia said. "We need (Cammarata's) offense. He's always been an offensive player."

The change was apparent. Cammarata said he had more energy, a little more confidence, was able to play with the puck more, get shots on net and create chances for his linemates.

"I feel like I've been playing hard right now. I just felt like today there were a few more openings," he said after Friday's 4-1 win. "I thought we got a lot of quality shots. That helped a lot."

Kloos played with Cammarata in the USHL with Waterloo - the two led the league in scoring - and spent most of their two seasons with the Gophers on the same line. More familiar with his fellow junior on the ice than anyone on the team is with anyone else, he also saw the difference.

"He played well tonight. It's always good to have him scoring," Kloos said Saturday about Cammarata, who Lucia mentioned needed to play with the puck. "He's had success the last couple years so it's good to get him back going."

As of Tuesday the plan this weekend is to keep both together along with freshman Tyler Sheehy, Lucia said, in a plan which is a photo negative of the situation between Sheehy and Novak.

Sheehy, who leads all Minnesota freshmen with ten goals in 27 games, spent most of last season in Waterloo on a line centered by Novak. The duo developed chemistry together before a late season change sent Sheehy to center a different line followed by a trade to Youngstown.

This season he's been in the third wheel mode by playing with a variety of players that aren't Novak. With three freshmen among the top-nine forwards this season (Brent Gates Jr. being the other), Lucia decided against putting two together. Instead of repeating Kloos and Cammarata, Minnesota's coach was in favor of having one freshman on each line.

"I think it was pretty easy," said Sheehy, trying to be that player in a pinch and stressing the importance of communication on the ice. "Watching those two guys play, just seeing what they do, it's pretty incredible the chemistry they already have. For me to get in there was pretty cool. It wasn't much of a transition because I was playing with Justin for a while."

Having a mixture of playing with one player regularly to help grow chemistry and another to learn has helped both Sheehy and Novak work on becoming players who can do so with anyone.

In Novak's case, he has spent almost his entire first year with 6'2", 207 lbs Hudson Fasching, who the undersized, still growing freshman says has helped him learn a lot position-wise. At other times speedy Swedish sophomore Leon Bristedt has been on his wing.

The difference between the physical Fasching and Bristedt, neither of whom share the style with Novak, or each other for that matter. (Neither does Connor Reilly, who replaced Bristedt on the line last weekend.)

"It can work either way. You can have slumps with certain guys and change it up, I don't know," he said. "Whatever I'm put with I try to help them as much as I can, help us create scoring chances and play to our strengths."

Chemistry they say is not like a boiling pot of water. Once it is there it is there and comes back easily. Camamrata and Kloos are the example to prove that point.

"Even if you get moved off that line or whatever it is, if you get moved back I think you have those tendencies still to remember and move on," said Sheehy.

And so fat that has been the case with Sheehy and Novak. Do they find it weird that they have been kept apart their entire freshmen seasons despite being version 2.0 of Kloos and Cammarata down to the same USHL team?

"I guess that's just the way it has worked out. I don't find it weird. We played together for a long time in two different leagues," Novak said.

His past and so far not present linemate chimed in with an eerily similar response.

"I'm not sure. I don't know. I wasn't sure if it was going to be like that or not, so I wouldn't say it's too weird," said Sheehy.

Minnesota travels to Columbus this weekend for two Big Ten conference games against Ohio State. Friday's contest begins at 5:30 pm CT (6:30 pm ET) and airs on BTN. Saturday's game starts at 6:00 p.m. CT (7:00 p.m. ET) and is not aired on TV.

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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --