It’s easy for players on the Michigan hockey team to start pointing fingers as the program endures its longest losing streak since the 1998-99 season. Maybe one line isn’t pulling its weight or a special teams unit has started to slack.
But for the Wolverines, the problem is clear.
Over the last six games, No. 19 Michigan (3-5-2 CCHA, 7-7-2 overall) has given up 23 goals. Before the losing streak started, the Wolverines had allowed just 20 goals over 12 games.
Michigan’s scoring has been inconsistent at times this season, but doubling a season total of goals allowed over the span of six games won’t help a team win many games, no matter what the offense is doing.
Michigan coach Red Berenson was particularly disappointed after a pair of losses last weekend, a 4-1 loss to Northeastern and a 6-3 loss to Union.
“We are only good if our goals against are down,” Berenson said. “We give up 10 goals against over two games? How can you feel good about that at home? That’s a team issue that starts with goalies, but it’s defense and forwards too. It’s everyone.”
When that many goals are allowed, the first player to consider is the goaltender. Fifth-year senior Shawn Hunwick entered the season as the unquestioned starter for the first time in his career, and he sure looked the part when he shut out Niagara in the season opener.
His full impact was felt in the season’s first road series against Northern Michigan, when he was ejected for fighting. Backup sophomore goaltender Adam Janecyk was forced into the game and didn’t stand a chance, allowing four goals in a 5-3 Michigan loss.
The next night, Hunwick stopped all three shots in a shootout victory over the Wildcats.
The goalie has been Hunwick all year, and presumably, it will continue to be Hunwick all year.
But he admitted the last couple of weeks might be the worst stretch of his career at any level, and at times, that has been obvious. He hasn’t played all too poorly, but he also hasn’t played like the Shawn Hunwick — one of the best goaltenders in the nation — that Michigan fans are accustomed to.
“I need to get back to worrying about myself,” Hunwick said. “Maybe I need to start being a little selfish. … Sometimes I think about the team too much and I just need to worry about myself. If I am not doing my job, I’m not giving my team the best chance to win.”
But it’d be ludicrous to claim that he is the sole reason for the team’s woes. The defense in front of him has looked lethargic and unfocused at times. Lazy plays that were not being made a month ago are becoming more and more prevalent for a unit that can’t afford to take a shift off.
“Anytime you are getting more goals scored on you, you have to pay more attention to detail,” said sophomore defenseman Mac Bennett. “I think that may be an area we are lacking.”
Multiple goals last weekend resulted from sloppy defensive play — the puck was given away or a defenseman was caught out of position, leaving the opposing player with nothing but the puck and open space.
There aren’t many goalies who can turn away shot after shot when they are left out to dry, faced one-on-one with a shooter, which is a big reason for Hunwick’s rising goals against totals.
“Shawn gives us a chance every night, but when you are getting odd man rushed it’s tough,” Bennett said. “Even a goalie who has the best save percentage in the country is going to get scored on sometimes in those situations.”
Added Berenson: “We are asking him to bail us out too often. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, yet he still made some good saves over the weekend.”
Even though the two “units” are separate, it’s easy to lump Hunwick and the defense together as one group. The two groups bounce off each other more than any other on the ice, and if one starts to play better, chances are the other will too.
“I am talking to (Michigan goalie coach Josh Blackburn), about how before he got to Michigan he was playing on bad teams, he would give up nine goals and still think he played a good game,” Hunwick said. “So just talking to him and trying to push through it.”
Hunwick isn’t pointing fingers, though. Michigan’s defensive issues involve more than just one culprit.
“I need to be better, the defense needs to be better and we all need to step up,” he said.