When senior defenseman Matt Hunwick suited up for his first game as a member of the Michigan hockey team, no one knew what he would turn into.

Scott Bell
Senior Matt Hunwick is a finalist for the CCHA Best Defensive-Defenseman award. (BEN SIMON/Daily)

“Hunwick was quiet,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “He was shy. I don’t think anybody labeled him right away as a potential captain.”

But two years after his debut, the Sterling Heights native had an ‘A’ stitched to his jersey. For his senior year, that turned to a ‘C.’

Now, the captain is steering his team as it ventures further into the CCHA Playoffs. The Wolverines take on Michigan State this Friday, and, as a good leader should, Hunwick jumpstarted Michigan’s postseason effort with a great example.

The Wolverines were kicking off the CCHA playoffs against Northern Michigan in a second-round bout last Friday. The game was scoreless, Michigan was on the power play and Hunwick took things into his own hands.

The blue liner received a neutral-zone pass from alternate captain T.J. Hensick, skated up the left wing and stunned Wildcat goalie Brian Stewart, whipping a shot from the left circle over Stewart’s glove.

All this from a guy who was named a finalist for the CCHA Defensive Defenseman of the Year award.

Hunwick is currently tied for 13th on the career goals for list for Michigan defensemen. And with two games remaining in the CCHA playoffs, not to mention the looming NCAA Tournament, he’s bound to move up even further on that list. A slow offensive start to the year hurt him, but he still boasts a 6-20-26 line for the season.

The back liner – who went from a single score in his freshman campaign to 11 goals his junior season, all the while maintaining a healthy plus/minus in the mid-teens – has developed into a dangerous two-way player. Berenson chalks it up to his skating prowess, maturity and increasing poise on the ice.

“It’s been a classic sign of a player developing into a complete player,” Berenson said. “He slowly got more confidence with the puck and then realized he could skate and join the offense. . His junior year he kind of put it all together. Now, he’s a captain.”

Hunwick also feels he’s naturally matured into an offensive defenseman. But the guy he skates with on the blue line, star sophomore Jack Johnson, has helped it a bit, too.

“Playing with a guy like Jack, obviously he rubs off on you a little bit,” Hunwick said.

Johnson is a finalist for the CCHA Offensive Defenseman of the Year award and set the record for goals by a Michigan sophomore defenseman this season with 16.

But no matter what end of the ice the duo is playing on, each individual deserves recognition. Combined, the two are plus-43 (Hunwick is plus-22, Johnson plus-21) and contributed 60 points to make Michigan’s already-threatening offense even more daunting. The Wolverines have the highest goals per game in the NCAA (4.29).

“If we’re able to jump in the rush and help our forwards, it’s huge for our team,” Hunwick said.

“It creates a lot of offense. It makes the other team have to worry about more than just T.J. Hensick, (Andrew) Cogliano, guys like that.”

It won’t be long before opponents in professional leagues are worrying about Hunwick.

The Boston Bruins drafted Hunwick in the seventh round (224th overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

Berenson, a successful NHL player and coach, sees a professional hockey career budding in Hunwick.

“He has the potential to have a career at another level,” Berenson said. “I don’t think there’s any question he has a chance of playing.”

Until then, he’ll keep scoring and stopping goals.

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