With four games and as many wins under the No. 1 Michigan hockey team’s belt, the Wolverines now have a better idea of lines, chemistry — what works and what doesn’t. Here’s a breakdown of the Michigan squad as it stands at the edge of CCHA play.
Offense: Just weeks ago, Michigan was wondering how its offense would fare after the graduation of four of its top scorers from last year.
Twenty-four goals later, the Wolverines have a slightly better idea. And though it’s still too early for Michigan coach Red Berenson to tell who the season’s top scorers will be, he is sure of one thing — his forwards have chemistry. And the chemistry is working.
The composition of each forward line follows the same pattern — two returning players skating with a freshman. At least one player on every line has scored at least once this season, so it’s difficult to argue against the effectiveness of the combinations.
Seniors Luke Glendening and David Wohlberg and freshman Travis Lynch command the first line. Glendening registered the first hat trick of his career during a 10-3 blowout of St. Lawrence on Oct. 13, and the trio has already registered 14 points this season.
With line dynamics like this, no radical changes loom. The groupings have shifted and will continue to do so as injuries come and go. But Berenson’s pairing both youth with experience has proven to be the best way to acclimate the freshmen to the team. As the months progress and the underclassmen get more playing time, the offense should become more potent.
Defense: The first hiccup of the Wolverine’s season didn’t stem from any opponent or an in-game situation, but instead an internal problem — the suspension of sophomore defenseman Jon Merrill.
Senior Greg Pateryn and sophomore Mac Bennett are doing their best to ensure that he isn’t missed. And, so far, he hasn’t been.
Pateryn and Bennett comprise the only defensive line that has experience skating together. They were first paired together last year, and their history shows.
The duo provides pressure when it’s needed and has helped the Wolverines keep the puck in their attacking zone for most of the games.
The defensive corps is young, but like the offense, the pairing of a freshman with a returning skater is building confidence and the light non-conference schedule has helped the players get a feel for one another.
The defense can expect to be tested more now that CCHA play is underway and the quality level of opponents is increasing. For now, the return of Merrill is the only thing threatening to change the lines.
Goaltenders: Although he’s just 5-foot-7, fifth-year senior goalie Shawn Hunwick has, perhaps, the biggest presence on the ice.
He is the backbone of the Wolverines — not just of the defense but also the entire squad. And everyone sees it. The players say having Hunwick in goal is both a comfort and a confidence booster. Berenson calls him a “difference maker.”
Since the start of the season, Hunwick’s save percentage rests at .930. For the first time in his career, he’s not competing for the starting nod, and there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that he’s the Wolverines go-to-man behind the net.
But if the unthinkable happens, and Hunwick is no longer able to play, how much confidence can the team put in his backup, sophomore Adam Janecyk?
Janecyk has seen 19 minutes of game action this season, and only after Hunwick had been playing particularly well against Niagara and St. Lawrence. Neither team scored under Janecyk’s watch, and Berenson has made it clear that game experience will go a long way toward getting him comfortable.
The question lies in how he’ll get that game experience. There are no plans for Janecyk to start, and as long as Hunwick is around, there’s no reason he should. Janecyk has not seen action under any dramatic circumstances — Hunwick has not been hurt or had any sub-par performances. But Janecyk needs more minutes in low-pressure games before he’ll be ready to take the ice for a must-win contest.
He’ll have to eventually — it’s Hunwick’s last year.
Special Teams: The penalty kill didn’t start off as a big area of concern for Berenson. But now that his team has amassed almost 46 minutes in the penalty box, maybe a little nervousness is justified.
Forty-six minutes is far too much time spent playing man-down for Berenson’s liking, but so far, the penalty kill unit has not disappointed him.
The penalty kill has allowed three goals in 20 opportunities. And Michigan owes its success to its seasoned senior leadership: Glendening, Pateryn, Wohlberg and Hunwick.
Whether Berenson likes it or not, playing shorthanded is the only way the Wolverines will continue to improve on the penalty kill. And with a team that averages about 11.5 penalty minutes per game, the younger players will certainly get a lot more experience.