Paul Thompson plays hockey for the University of New Hampshire.

Paul Thompson is doing something that fans of the University of New Hampshire's hockey team probably aren't used to.

UNH has long been known in college hockey circles for its high-flying, speed-based offense. But Thompson, who is from Derry and played for Pinkerton for two years before jumping to juniors, is almost unique among the school's prolific scorers in that his goals this season haven't been the result of dazzling displays of skill. Instead, Thompson has scored his six goals largely by way of ugly play around the net.

"It's just about going and working hard down around the net because that's where goals are scored," said the 6-0, 210-pound freshman. "Drive to the net and try to score trashy goals. They count the same as the beautiful ones. One of my qualities has always been finish around the net. You need to work hard to get around there and let other guys get a lot of shots and just pick up rebounds and stuff like that. My game is just driving the net and playing hard."

The fact that he's collected six goals, including a pair of game-winners, and four assists in his first eight games with the Wildcats is a little surprising. His 10 points ties him with senior Matt Fornataro for second on the team behind only dynamic fellow freshman, James vanRiemsdyk, who was drafted second overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in June's NHL Entry Draft.

"He's a very smart hockey player," said UNH head coach Dick Umile. "It's not by accident he's always at the puck. You have to have great awareness. He's a scorer and he's a playmaker and good things happen when people like that are around the puck all the time."

It's even more surprising considering he wasn't even supposed to be playing in Durham yet.

Thompson, who turns 19 at the end of the month, originally committed to UNH for the 2008 season. However, he got the call to start school this season largely because Trevor Smith, the Wildcats' leading scorer last season as a sophomore, bolted for the pros, signing a two-year contract with the New York Islanders and foregoing his final two years with UNH.

"That was one of the reasons (they wanted me to come early)," said Thompson. "They still recruited a couple of kids after me, but that was definitely one of the reasons they wanted me to come this year. They didn't really ask. They kind of didn't give me the option."

That was fine with Thompson, who grew up cheering for the Wildcats as a kid, and had a cousin, Mike Souza, who played four years from 1996 to 2000. While he was lighting up the Eastern Junior Hockey League to the tune of a league-leading 45 goals and 38 assists (83 points) in 44 games for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs, he was dreaming of home games played at UNH's famous Whittemore Center.

"Pretty much, once I knew UNH was in the picture (recruiting him), I decided that was where I was going to go," he said. "I was always at the games from (when Souza played there) and I've been a big fan ever since then," he said. "I always loved the atmosphere and obviously they have a great hockey program and I'd always looked forward to coming to the Whitt, especially as a New Hampshire hockey player growing up."

Umile, for his part, has been thrilled with the play of Thompson to this point. While he got a glimpse of how good Thompson could be under coach Sean Tremblay with the Junior Monarchs, certainly 10 points in eight games exceeds even lofty expectations.

"You never know," said Umile, who recently got his 400th career win. "Freshmen are freshmen. Obviously he's a scholarship recruit for us and he's played very well, but you just never know how it's going to work out when they come in. We're just really glad he's here now."

Thompson also came close to being drafted by an NHL team this summer, having been ranked 78th among North American skaters by the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau. As the names of lower-ranked players were called time and again ahead of him, Thompson didn't worry.

"It's something I can't control, so it didn't bother me too much," said Thompson, who is still draft-eligible. "I knew it was up in the air whether I was going to get drafted. It didn't bother me too much but I can use it as a motivation factor."

That motivation has already paid huge dividends for UNH. Thompson scored his first goal, the game-winner, in his second game against No. 4 Colorado College. He followed that with his first career multiple-point performance with a goal and an assist against Northeastern; his breakout game came last Saturday.

Paired with vanRiemsdyk and junior Thomas Fortney for the first time, Thompson netted a hat trick and a pair of assists in UNH's 5-4 overtime win at Providence. His third goal, incidentally, was the game-winner.

"Once we were going into OT, I was just hoping someone popped it in," he said. "I didn't really care who it was. I was just worried about getting the opportunity in overtime to just throw the puck on net and make sure we don't let anything up. That was it. (Freshman defenseman Phil) DeSimone made a pass up to vanRiemsdyk and he made a great pass to me, so I just redirected it in."

Asked what he was doing when he scored the goal, his answer should have been obvious.

"I was just going hard to the net," he shrugged.

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