Matt Hunwick hasn’t yet become a household name, but he soon will be if he continues his recent outstanding play.
The defenseman’s relatively unknown status might be due to his position. It might be because of the fact that he scored just one goal last year during his freshman season. Maybe his unimposing size and his quiet demeanor have contributed, as well.
But the sophomore picked up his third CCHA Defensive Player of the Week award on Monday after contributing a game-winning goal and two assists in Michigan’s weekend-series sweep of Alaska-Fairbanks. It was his second time earning the honor in as many weeks.
“(Being recognized) definitely gives you confidence,” Hunwick said. “I just have more confidence with the puck out there. (I’m) making smart plays (and) seeing the ice better as of late.”
With five goals and 12 assists just 22 games into the season, Hunwick has already surpassed his 15-point freshman season performance. He is currently on a seven-game scoring streak during which he has accumulated 12 points. Perhaps most impressive, the Wolverines are a perfect 9-0-0 when Hunwick scores a point.
“Sometimes the puck just goes in when you’re a defenseman,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “But (Hunwick) is getting his shots through to the net now; he’s shooting smart, and it’s going in for him.”
All this talk about offense shouldn’t hide the obvious fact that a good defenseman must be able to play effective defense — an area of the game in which Hunwick has long excelled. The Sterling Heights native’s solid positioning, good lateral mobility and sound defensive fundamentals certainly contributed to his selection by the Boston Bruins in the seventh round of last summer’s NHL Draft.
“(Hunwick) is a great skater, so he’s defensively sound,” said senior alternate captain Brandon Rogers, Hunwick’s defensive partner. “He’s real hard to beat one-on-one. He’s always in good position. He’s started to thrive off of being a two-way defenseman.”
And despite Hunwick’s scoring prowess this season, Berenson can’t help but think of Hunwick as superior on the defensive end.
“I think if you ask people who know Matt Hunwick, they would describe him as a defensive defenseman — a stay-at-home (player), very attentive to playing good defense (and) a player you can trust as a coach,” Berenson said.
But the fact that Hunwick has added a new wrinkle to his game this year can’t be ignored. It was evident on Dec. 10, when he netted a hat trick in a game against Bowling Green. Hunwick scored more goals in the third period of that contest (2) than he did all last season. He currently ranks first on the team in total points among defensemen and 14th in the nation in points per game by a defenseman.
“(Hunwick) is becoming more of a complete player,” Berenson said. “He plays strong. I would say that his foot speed is deceptive. He can recover. He can get into position. He can beat players to a loose puck. You watch him on the penalty kill — in a lot of down-low situations — and he uses his foot speed and his body position well.”
Some of the credit for Hunwick’s improvement should go to an increasing familiarity with Rogers on the ice.
“I really like playing with (Rogers),” Hunwick said. “I think we’ve grown a lot together and we feel comfortable out there with each other. We have a sense of what one another’s doing, so it’s been pretty easy. He’s great with the puck, (and) he has great hands and I can get back to the loose pucks.”
Hunwick also skated for the United States in the World Junior Championship over the holidays and opened many observers’ eyes with his strong play. Hunwick played in the same tournament last year, but his role was significantly broadened this time around. As to whether or not the experience will improve the remainder of Hunwick’s season, Berenson believes it’s too early to tell.
“It’s quick to say whether (playing in the Juniors) was a great thing for him or didn’t matter,” Berenson said. “Hopefully, the experience will give him some confidence. It’s another line on his resume that should make him a better player.”