The defensive corps continued to show up for Michigan’s series this weekend.
Sure, the back lines for the Michigan hockey team are physically present every game. But in this weekend’s series against Miami (Ohio), the defensemen helped carry the Wolverines to decisive 4-1, 3-0 victories — and you could see that they were engaged for the full 120 minutes.
It started on Friday, when the defense was able to weather a second period that saw only one shot from the Wolverines.
Michigan’s offense was a little more productive on Saturday. But the defense still held stable, and the Wolverines have their second line to thank for that.
Since the return of sophomore defenseman Jon Merrill, Michigan’s goals against per game average has decreased dramatically from 2.60 to 1.25.
That statistic is certainly a confidence booster.
“With Jonny in the lineup, he upgrades our defense a lot,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “He gives us another puck-handling defenseman. He’s a big part of it. (He) makes a difference.”
It’s the way Merrill reads the ice that makes him such a valuable player, according to sophomore forward Luke Moffatt. Merrill tallied two assists over the weekend simply because he effectively worked the puck from the point before finding an open man.
“(Merrill) shoots it where he wants it,” Moffatt said. “The power of the shot doesn’t matter if you (can’t) get it there.”
But don’t forget about Merrill’s partner-in-crime, junior defenseman Lee Moffie. Moffie scored two of the Wolverines’ three goals on Saturday, one of which came shorthanded.
“We’re not planning on our defense scoring goals,” Berenson said. “All the goals the defense scores are important goals. It’s good to get some offense from our defense once in a while.”
HELPING HUNWICK: His fifth shutout of the season was just another game in the life of senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick.
Hunwick stopped 29 shots en route to Michigan’s win. But his biggest stop of night came on a shot that could’ve been a serious game changer.
His two defenders left him out to dry — Merrill broke his stick at an inopportune moment and Moffie was nowhere to be found — as a RedHawk took advantage of a breakaway.
Hunwick made the stop with his pads, but somehow, the puck managed to squirt through and rest on the goal line.
The Miami bench insisted it crossed the line. The referees took several minutes to review the play before confirming the no-goal ruling, which was made much to the RedHawks’ dismay.
“If 6,000 people sigh, it’s a pretty good chance the home team knows that it’s a goal,” said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. “We gotta accept that and move on.”
Hunwick and the Wolverines caught a break with the ruling. But the path to a shutout does not run smoothly — literally.
“A big problem we’ve been having all year is Shawn getting bumped,” Moffie said. “(Hunwick’s) on his back.”
Hunwick had several run-ins with the RedHawks on Friday, though his contact with them on Saturday was limited to just one knock down.
After being ejected from a game against Northern Michigan earlier this season, Hunwick has learned his lesson about fighting back, letting his defensemen get physical for him instead. But Miami goaltender Connor Knapp wanted to get right in on all the action.
Knapp left the net when, as the third period was winding down, a brawl broke out around him, and he started shoving Moffie.
When asked if he ever considered leaving his net to go fight the 6-foot-6 Knapp, Hunwick laughed.
“He’d beat me up,” Hunwick said. “He’d kill ya. You know how big he is? Have you seen Rocky 4?”
THE SEVENTH MAN: Even though Michigan played much of Saturday’s game down a man, the Wolverines found help elsewhere.
Michigan’s student section, the Children of Yost, spent much of the night mercilessly mocking both the referees and the RedHawks.
Miami defenseman Will Weber couldn’t touch the puck without being showered by boos, and the students took great pleasure in over-exaggerating Blasi’s emotional responses to the game.
The Wolverines remember the hostile student section they faced when they made the trek to Oxford back in November, Saturday’s game was retaliation for that.
“Once the crowd starts going crazy, you kind of start losing your mind a little bit,” Hunwick said. “It’s not easy to keep your head.”