Monday, March 22, 2010

Michigan hockey and Shawn Hunwick

I've lamented before around these parts that I've seen a bare minimum of hockey games this year. Of the things I've noted was that Michigan's break-in was ineffective and inherently kind of flawed (in the game I watched against MSU, anyway):

What I saw last night were a lot of schematic issues, the gravest of which was the team's break-in. Michigan spent a lot of time last night trying to stretch the ice by sending their wingers to the MSU blue line. That's all fine and good, but MSU almost always had three men back defensively and Michigan had no speed through the neutral zone, sans the puck carrier. This necessitated two different break ins: a dump and chase to the opposite side of the offensive zone or a 50-foot shot from the side boards. The dump and chase inherently didn't work because Michigan didn't have any speed. The MSU defenseman would just turn around for an easy breakout. The other break-in, a long shot from the sideboards, is almost never going to be effective. The only time it would is if you've got another player crashing the net, which again Michigan never did because of a lack of speed.

This was completely remedied this weekend, and watching the team, it's difficult to imagine a scenario in which they weren't dominant all year. They were consistently entering the offensive zone with three men, crashing the net effectively and looking to set up their offense rather than taking their chances with the dump and chase. Michigan attacked all weekend and it paid off.

The bigger storyline, however, is Shawn Hunwick, a walk-on who is getting a shot because of a groin injury to nominal starter Bryan Hogan. It should be noted that Hunwick (according to the Big Ten Network announcers before the Miami game) played for Honeybaked, one of the premiere amateur hockey programs in the country, not to mention the Detroit area. (Personal aside: I have long contended that I had a pretty decent shot of making the Michigan club hockey team. A few of the guys I played with in high school made the team and it gave me hope that I might've had a chance. I never tried out as I was too busy with The Michigan Daily and, ya know, school work. So when I heard that Michigan's walk-on goalie played Honeybaked, a club I had 0.00% chance of ever making, I sort of freaked out and now find it even more difficult to imagine how good the Michigan players actually are. But I digress.) Hunwick's walk-on status probably has as much to do with his diminutive 5'7" frame as anything else, given that pedigree. He has good positioning and a high hockey IQ, and is clearly capable of performing on this level. But he does have one glaring, terrifying flaw in his game: rebound control.

Watching Hunwick play is frightening. And not in that occasionally exciting Al Montoya "You're not a defenseman so get back in the net and let them handle the puck, dear God," kind of way. No, there's a pretty obvious fundamental flaw in the way he handles rebounds, and it's not something that works itself out with more playing time. Hunwick attacks shots. Given his size, he might have to. He can't sit back in the net and direct rebounds the way larger goalies can. This is not to say that coming out and challenging shots is wrong (in fact, it's one of the strongest parts of his game), but Hunwick has to exert himself so much--stretching to make a save, moving quickly to cover the corners, etc.--that steering rebounds to the corners and out of danger is something he seems unable to do.

This hasn't really been an issue yet. Michigan defensemen and back checking centers have frequently found themselves in the right place at the right time, playing strong in front of the net and clearing out players and rebounds. But Hunwick's play screams of high variance: he's going to make a lot of good saves and really carry a team sometimes, but will also give up soft ones because of big, errant rebounds. God forbid we go to overtime in any game. My heart won't be able to take it.

Hunwick is a wonderful story and is playing very well. He's made a few saves that have absolutely saved Michigan's season, but he's also caused a few too many scares for my liking. I'm concerned with how sustainable winning is (especially in a win-or-go-home format) with a goalie that plays this frantic a style.


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