Downing and Shuart: Swag, faceoffs and fighting

Wednesday, December 2, 2015 - 6:08pm

Michael Downing and Max Shuart are best friends.

Michael Downing and Max Shuart are best friends. Buy this photo
James Coller/Daily

 

Michael Downing isn’t nearly as intimidating in person as he looks on the ice.

Sure, the junior defenseman is big, standing just over 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 200 pounds. But the vicious playing style that lands him in hot water with the officials and draws crowds to their feet doesn’t jump out.

He has broad shoulders, a lean frame topped by a mop of blond hair and a wide grin that breaks out when he’s joking with his teammate and best friend Max Shuart.

Shuart, a junior center, doesn’t smile. Not on the ice, not in his headshot and certainly not in the interview room. The fourth-line centerman, sometimes called “Shu” or “Shuey,” is a true grinder. A strong jawline frames the mean mug he likes to carry, and from his massive thighs, it’s easy to see why he can fly on the ice. 

But by all accounts, the two are all but inseparable off the ice. The Daily sat down with Downing and Shuart to discuss the season, Shuart’s odd swag and who would win in a fight between the two.

***

Shuart stuck out like a sore thumb last season. He was the only Michigan player to wear a plastic face shield, called the “bubble,” instead of a caged mask. He said last season that he “didn’t want to be the only one,” but he was suprised when nine of his teammates opted to join him in donning the same helmet this year.

Downing made the switch, but not by choice. He said he only switched because of a “personal reason” that his teammates know about. But making the change subsequently removed one thing Downing could make fun of Shuart for.

They discussed the bubbles:

Downing: Once a lot of guys put them on, all the fun went away. You couldn’t make fun of him any more.

Shuart: There is a lot of hypocrisy on the team now considering some of the opinions in the past on the bubble.

Downing: I don’t mind it.

Shuart: It’s definitely an eye-opener about some guys’ character.

***

By not sticking out anymore and being easily seen on the ice, Shuart needed to find a different way to accomplish the task. So when the team made its stick orders during the preseason, he was elated to find out no one else ordered the same stick as him — a Bauer 1X.

“In my opinion, he got a little upset that a lot of people transitioned from the cage to the bubble this year,” said junior forward Tyler Motte. “So he’s doing something to stand out.”

Added junior forward JT Compher: “Maybe he thinks it was made specially for him.”

Perhaps Shuart actually believes that: He has made it clear no one else on the team can use the 1X. Before Downing could answer if he’d order the stick, Shuart interjected: “Nobody will be getting that stick!”

In fact, if Downing were not in the room with Shuart, the Daily wouldn’t have learned what stick it is. 

TMD: What stick is it?

Shuart: I don’t want to say in front of anyone.

Downing: It’s a (Bauer) 1X.

Shuart: It might be a 1X.

Downing: It’s a 1X.

TMD: Why does no one else have it?

Downing: Because it sucks; it’s a shitty stick.

Shuart: Say what you will about the stick, but it’s been getting the job done, I think.

Downing: You are tied with JT in goals, right?

Shuart: That’s correct.

TMD: Do you have to special order it?

Shuart: No. I was kind of shocked no one else got it, considering it’s clearly the best stick available this year. But if I plug Bauer too hard — I don’t want the NCAA calling, but it’s a good stick. For the readers out there, it gets the job done.

***

Statistically, Michigan has the fifth-best offense in the country, boasting 4.09 goals per game. A large part of that success stems from puck possession that is helped by winning faceoffs.

While Shuart uses what he thinks is the best stick on the market, it hasn’t helped him greatly in the circle. Shuart ranks last of the Wolverines’ centers in faceoffs, winning just 34 of the 83 he has taken. So much for the Bauer 1X.

Shuart: While you’re recording here, maybe throw in there that I want to improve on faceoffs.

TMD: Red told us one player needed to practice 150 faceoffs a day a couple weeks ago. Was that you?

Shuart: It might’ve been, but I take anywhere between 150-200 faceoffs a week.

Before Shuart could finish talking, Downing interrupted.

Downing: I have to say, if you were going to make an educated guess who he told to take 150 faceoffs, I’m not going to say who, but he could be sitting in this room.

Shuart: Anyway, it’s something I’m looking to improve on.

Downing: You’ve gotten better at faceoffs.

Shuart: I appreciate that.

***

When they’re in the same room, Downing and Shuart act a bit like brothers — it’s easy to imagine them arguing over the remote. Teammates say their favorite topic of debate is who would win a fight.

“They probably talk about fighting every day and never actually fight,” Compher said.

The Daily dug into the video archives to analyze the matchup. Shuart fought a few times in juniors, and is clearly more of a counter-puncher than a true fighter. He is scrappy, but easily overpowered by opponents with longer reaches.

Teammates say Shuart’s best quality is his chin, which seems appropriate for his grinding playing style.

Downing, on the other hand, is a pure fighting talent. A huge wingspan gives him an advantage over Shuart. He’s also a very active puncher, throwing a flurry of right hands right from the outset.

“I think that one might go 10-12 rounds,” Motte said. “I don’t think we’ll ever find a winner. Shuey would never give up, and Downing would just keep going. I’ll take a ticket to that fight.”

Downing: I got in a couple fights back in the day (USHL). I think me and Shuart should’ve fought once, but he wouldn’t fight me.

Shuart: It was never specific, but looking back, we’re such good friends that we’d like to know who got the win because we have pretty different opinions. I like to bring the physical edge to my game. I got into a few fights naturally, but I wouldn’t call myself a fighter.

TMD: Are you more of a fighter or trash talker?

Shuart: Those two go hand in hand in my book. A little bit of both.

Downing: What I don’t like about college is guys will chirp non-stop and call you all this stuff because you can’t do anything about it. What I liked about juniors is that if somebody wanted to say something, they knew they would have to back it up. Whereas college you can’t. A lot of guys are all talk in college.

TMD: Your penalty minutes are down this year.

Downing: I’ve tried to stay on the ice. It’ll come eventually. It takes a couple games to get the timing down. But I don’t want to get suspended again. It’ll happen again eventually.

TMD: The suspension or the big hit?    

Downing: (Laughs)