Hunwick has chance to carry Michigan again

Past predictors

“In all my years at Michigan,” said coach Red Berenson, “I’ve never proclaimed to be an expert on goalies.”

At the start of the season, in his usual fashion, the CCHA’s master of understatement hit upon what few people dared question openly. For the first half of the 2008-09 season, the Wolverines were struggling in front of goaltender Billy Sauer but finding success when Bryan Hogan was in the net, even though the two goalies had nearly identical numbers.

Two seasons later — last year — Berenson was once again rotating goaltenders, with Hogan and Shawn Hunwick splitting time. Hunwick was the guy who came in for an injured Hogan in late February 2010 after playing only 18 minutes in his career. Hunwick took the Wolverines to a Mason Cup and nearly brought them to the 2010 Frozen Four. Michigan’s 2009-10 season ended with a 3-2 double overtime loss to Miami in the Midwest Regional final.

In the first half of the 2010-11 season, Hogan and Hunwick again split time in net until Hogan was injured during the warmups before the Big Chill at the Big House. Hunwick shut out the Spartans in that outdoor game 5-0, and he took the Wolverines all the way to the 2011 national championship game.

Berenson, the guy who’s no expert on goalies, said that the Wolverines brought in Hunwick “as our third goalie, with no promise to ever play and no expectations to ever play.” Last April in St. Paul, Minn., Berenson said, “He was the reason we were in that game.”

Note to the Wolverines: Ride this fifth-year senior for as long as you can.

Good omens

Michigan is one of those teams that should never be underestimated. Look at Hunwick, a walk-on third stringer. “When he got a chance to play and he got a little confidence and realized the team was behind him 100 percent,” said Berenson, “he became a much better goalie and he just continues to improve with confidence and experience.”

The same can be said of any number of Wolverines players who have done the proverbial stepping up in recent years. A team that once modeled itself after an elite European style of play has become a formidable, hard-working, blue-collar squad from which heroes — like last season’s Scooter Vaughan, who went from defense to offense — always emerge.

Berenson said he’s looking at Chris Brown, Kevin Lynch, and A.J. Treais to fill offensive voids left by graduating seniors. Lynch had 11 goals last year; Brown and Treais each had nine. David Wohlberg is the team’s returning lead scorer. “Scoring will probably be by committee rather than one or two players,” said Berenson.

What spells doom?

There are several things that can hamper Michigan this season. The team may fail to find its scoring chemistry and struggle early on. The team may also rely too much on Hunwick as the season progresses.

The defense is fairly experienced, but one guy who was expected to help lead it, Jon Merrill, will be out for 12 games for violating team rules. Berenson had high praise for Merrill before the season began, but the loss of Merrill doesn’t leave the Wolverines bereft of blue line talent.

“Greg Pateryn will also be a rock solid defenseman for Michigan,” said Berenson. “Lee Moffie came out strong last year and became a real offensive threat as the year wore on and scored some key goals for us. Mac Bennett had a strong freshman season and he looks like he’s ready to really take a big step this year.”

About the Wolverines

2010-11 overall record: 29-11-4

2010-11 CCHA record: 20-7-1-0 (first)

2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): Third

Key losses: Forwards Louie Caporusso, Carl Hagelin, Matt Rust and Scooter Vaughan; defensemen Brandon Burlon and Chad Langlais

Players to watch: Forwards Chris Brown, A.J. Treais and David Wohlberg; defenseman Jon Merrill; goaltender Shawn Hunwick

Impact rookie: Forward Zach Hyman

Why the Wolverines will finish higher than the coaches poll: They drove themselves all the way to Detroit, and from Detroit to St. Paul. It doesn’t hurt that Red Berenson is their navigator.

Why the Wolverines will finish lower than the coaches poll: Chemistry can be a funny thing, especially in Ann Arbor.