Michigan celebrated the four-year careers of ten players during Saturday’s senior night ceremonies. It marked the beginning of the end for the seniors, but perhaps, more importantly, the start of every underclassman moving up in terms of expectations.
“There are no classes right now,” Michigan senior captain Eric Nystrom said. “There are no seniors — there are no freshmen. It’s just a gelling team, and everybody has to step up and play their best hockey. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time in the playoffs or your last time. Everybody has got to play their best hockey.”
Standing third in line to receive the seniors during the ceremony, sophomore Matt Hunwick greeted the first eight seniors with a handshake and a hug. When his defensive partner, Brandon Rogers, came to the line, Hunwick stuck out his right hand to shake. Instead, Rogers threw his arms around his linemate as they celebrated their final regular season game together.
While Rogers — the Wolverines’ top senior defenseman — enjoyed what he called the “odd feeling” of skating around for one of the last times in Ann Arbor, he still has his focus on completing something his class has yet to do — win a national championship.
“It’s a little strange,” Rogers said. “It’s the first time you step out onto the ice, and you’re looking around saying to yourself ‘it’s coming to an end.’ Almost. We’re not done yet. We’re not satisfied, and we still have a long way to go.”
Just as Rogers is playing out the final days of his career, Hunwick is gearing up to take over the title of top defenseman. A three-time CCHA Defensive Player of the Week winner this season, Hunwick has continued to pick up his game down the stretch for the Wolverines.
“(Hunwick) is starting to play that offensive skating style,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “He’s adding that confidence to his game. He can wheel with the puck as well as any defenseman in this league, and he can get you out of trouble in a minute.”
This weekend, Hunwick shined at the defensive end more than in the attacking zone. Playing with Nystrom and junior Brandon Kaleneicki, Hunwick helped keep Bowling Green from getting a single shot off on their 59-second 5-on-3 that opened the second period, Saturday.
Hunwick had his chances at Bowling Green netminder John Horrell. After serving a penalty midway through the first period, Hunwick burst out of the box to find a Michael Woodford pass coming his way. Breaking in with no one but Horrell to beat, Hunwick tried to put a shot over the sprawling Bowling Green keeper. Horrell managed to kick it in the corner, stifling Hunwick’s biggest chance of the night.
“I was hoping for him he was going to bury it,” Rogers said. “But I guess you never want a defenseman taking breakaways.”
The senior’s tutelage of what it takes to lead the program at Michigan has been more unspoken than explicit to his sophomore defense partner.
“A player like (Rogers), (he’s) someone who can do it all, put everything on the line and be a good leader in the locker room,” Hunwick said. “I kind of just pick up on those things and hope to carry them into next year.”
Despite not claiming to teach Hunwick about the role he will undoubtedly assume from Rogers next year, the Michigan alternate captain isn’t worried about Hunwick’s transition from No. 2 defenseman to the top spot.
“Maybe after the season he’ll say some stuff,” Hunwick said, “but right now we’re just worried about the games ahead.”
Don’t close the storybook just yet. There are still a few pages left to write. The two have a little more business to attend to together before Rogers passes the baton to Hunwick.