- Jed Moch/Daily
By Matt Slovin, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 8, 2011
Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson knows some parts of his job come easy. He doesn’t have to sell the program — its history speaks for itself. He doesn’t have to hype up his players. Scouts know that Berenson prepares them as well as anybody.
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And he doesn’t have to teach his players the desire to beat Michigan State, or at least not the ones from in state.
“When you’re a kid from Michigan, you’re either a Michigan guy or a Michigan State guy,” Berenson said.
Luckily for Berenson, he’s got one of the former between the pipes for this weekend’s series against the Spartans.
There’s something about Michigan State that just seems to light a fire under fifth-year senior netminder Shawn Hunwick — a fire that burned brightest on the biggest stage last season.
Hunwick believed he would be on the bench for The Big Chill at the Big House last December. When he got the starting nod during warmups, the Spartans’ fate might as well have been sealed — Hunwick didn't allow a goal, making 34 saves against Michigan State in front of the biggest crowd ever to watch a hockey game.
“If (playing Michigan State) brings the best out of you, then that’s the way it should be,” Berenson said.
Almost a year to the day later, the Wolverines (4-6-2 CCHA, 8-8-2 overall) will again need their goalie to be at his best if they are to steal points from Michigan State and climb back into the CCHA race.
When Michigan concludes the home-and-home series Saturday night at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, forward Phil Di Giuseppe’s absence will be prominent. The freshman is tied for the team lead for goals scored this season with eight, and his trip to his native Canada to try out for the junior national team is just one example of the series’ seemingly poor timing.
The Wolverines had a short week of practice because of their return from Alaska. And they couldn’t catch the Spartans at a worse time — Michigan State is 8-1-1 in its last 10 games.
After Michigan snapped a seven-game winless streak in the series finale against Alaska (Fairbanks), Berenson harped that his team needed to string together some wins heading into the semester break. This weekend marks the season’s halfway point and the last game action the Wolverines will see before the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 29-30 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
“Whether it’s the standings (or) whether it’s the rivalry, it all points to a huge weekend,” Berenson said. “I think we’ve built some confidence up, and we’ve got to get that momentum … and it’ll show up on Friday (at Yost Ice Arena).”
Berenson never expected that his team would find itself near the CCHA cellar at the midway point after reaching the title game last season. But even a split with the Spartans (6-4-0, 10-5-1) would be a boost. Despite being in a tie for eighth place in the conference, Michigan finds itself just five points out of the top four — hardly an insurmountable margin.
Senior defenseman and Michigan native Greg Pateryn didn’t have to tell the freshmen how important the series will be.
“I think most of the guys understand when they’re coming here the rivalry we have with Michigan State,” Pateryn said. “(But) you’re not really going to get it until you get out there and you have your first shift against them and everyone’s going above and beyond.”
Berenson wants to use the weekend to make a statement — that these are the games that define programs.
“This is the last weekend of hockey (in 2011) and it’s Michigan State,” Berenson said. “We belong in these games. That’s part of the reason you come to Michigan — to play in big games.”