EAST LANSING — That guy in between the pipes the last four weeks for the Michigan hockey team? That wasn’t Shawn Hunwick.
Sure, he looked like the fifth-year senior. He wore the same equipment.
But Michigan coach Red Berenson knows his diminutive goaltender, and during the seven-game winless streak that ended last weekend in Alaska, Hunwick wasn’t there. At least, he wasn’t mentally.
“The game, when you play goalie, is 90 percent mental,” Berenson said. “And the other 10 percent is mental.”
Hunwick emerged from his quasi-absence with a shutout in the series finale against Alaska (Fairbanks) last week that ended the Wolverines’ winless streak. Berenson officially declared that his netminder had returned after Friday’s 4-3 win over No. 14 Michigan State.
Hunwick did allow three goals, but one was what Berenson described as “fluky.” An errant shot hit off the boards behind the goal, rebounded and hit off the back of Hunwick’s neck for the score.
“He’s back,” said Berenson on Friday. “You never know, he could have a bad game, but he’s back. He’s in sync, he’s confident, he’s focused. He’s back.”
And if Hunwick really is back, where did he go?
Berenson said that focus and confidence has separated his level of play in the last three games from the previous three series. Hunwick didn’t lose the Wolverines any games during that stretch, but he seldom bailed them out.
Twice, Hunwick stopped breakaway opportunities in Saturday’s game against Michigan State. He turned away uneven rushes, pounced on loose pucks and located the puck through screens and traffic.
On Friday, Hunwick’s effort at the end of the game secured Michigan a victory. The Spartans fired shot after shot in the final minutes, but Hunwick denied all attempts to protect the one-goal lead.
“It was crazy,” Hunwick said. “The puck was all over the zone, they were all over us. We were lucky to get out of that with a win.”
LYNCH-LESS IN LANSING: Freshman forward Travis Lynch had difficulty skating off the ice on Saturday after suffering a blow to the head in the first period. He didn’t return to the game.
“He was dizzy,” Berenson said. “He got his bell rung. I don’t know if he got hit in the head or just snapped his head on the hit, but he wasn’t 100 percent so we couldn’t play him.”
Lynch collided with a Spartan defender in the corner of Michigan’s zone and appeared to hit his head on the ice. He stood up slowly, falling back down once in the process, and skated off woozily. He struggled to keep his balance while returning to the bench.
For the rest of the period Lynch sat with his back to the ice and looked down at his skates.
Freshman forward Zach Hyman took Lynch’s place on the third line.
DEEJ DEPARTS, SPARKS SITS: Finals came early for Phil Di Giuseppe. The freshman forward had to take his exams on Friday to allow himself time to travel to Canada for the junior national team tryouts this week.
Di Giuseppe is one of two Wolverines — the other being suspended sophomore defenseman Jon Merrill — to earn invites to their respective national teams. The weeklong tryouts pare down a roster of about 40 players to about 20 on the final squad. The teams compete in a 12-nation tournament over the course of several days after Christmas.
“I don’t know how many exams he wrote trying to prepare himself for the trip,” Berenson said.
The list of candidates to replace Di Giuseppe in Saturday’s 3-3 shootout loss came down to freshman forward Andrew Sinelli and junior forward Jeff Rohrkemper.
Berenson used both.
The team knew it would be without DiGiuseppe, but Berenson also removed junior forward Lindsay Sparks from the lineup as a healthy scratch.
Had the Michigan State series been earlier in the season, the Wolverines would have been playing the series finale without two of their top goal scorers. Di Giuseppe has maintained his production on the offensive end, but Sparks has taken a nose dive.
He has gone pointless in the past month after tallying 11 through his first seven games. He hass recorded just four shots during that span.
Sinelli recorded his first career point with an assist in the second period on Saturday.
Berenson said he thought Di Giuseppe may have been distracted during Friday’s contest because of his busy academic day, but the coach said he was pleased with how others filled in.
“That’s good. We got other guys picking up the slack,” he said.
SHUT OUT IN THE SHOOTOUT: Michigan failed to convert on all three penalty-shot attempts for the second straight shootout. Overall, the Wolverines have gone just 1-for-9 on shootout attempts, and 1-for-10 including junior forward Kevin Lynch’s penalty shot in regulation against Union.
Junior forward A.J. Treais, who scored Michigan’s only shootout goal against Northern Michigan, failed to convert on his attempt on Saturday.
Treais, unofficially the team’s most entertaining Tweeter, is the only Wolverine to have participated in all three shootouts. He jokingly mocked his inability to convert on Saturday through Twitter.
“I suck at hockey,” the tweet said.