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November 2, 2012With both junior Jon Merrill and sophomore Brennan Serville out of practice this week due to injuries, Michigan's blue line was a little thin, but no fear, in stepped former Wolverines and current NHLers Jack Johnson and Matt Hunwick to assist.
There is no NCAA rule that says alumni cannot practice with the team, though it should not be on a regular basis or else those players would be classified as coaches. Head coach Red Berenson allows his alums to skate occasionally with the Maize and Blue, but with the NHL locked out and U-M down two defensemen, it was an especially opportunistic week for that.
"We're not strategizing to bring them in on a regular basis; they're filling in for guys that are hurt," Berenson said. "But if I was Lee Moffie or Mac Bennett or Jacob Trouba, I'd be looking to these guys, like, 'Look at them skate, look how strong they are, look how they pass the puck.' I think you can learn a lot from them."
A captain as a senior in 2006-07, Hunwick played in 164 games with the Boston Bruins over four seasons, including a 27-point campaign in 2008-09. He was with the Colorado Avalanche the past two seasons, and has nothing but time on his hands right now. Living in Dexter and working out with former teammates (playing in the NHL when there is an NHL) in Plymouth, Hunwick was happy to lend a hand.
"A lot of NHL guys come back in the summer and skate with the team but obviously it's pretty unique to be here right now," Hunwick said. "It's fun to wear the Block 'M' again, to be out there skating with Jack, to be practicing at Yost, and just to get some work in. Most of the time it's just me and Jack and a few other guys going to the rink on our own shooting into an empty net."
The 6-1, 231-pound Johnson, who lives in Plymouth, spent two seasons at Michigan in 2005-06 and 2006-07 headhunting any unsuspecting skaters while turning in two of the best offensive seasons of any U-M defender, recording 26 goals and 45 assists. Had he stayed all four years, he would have challenged the defenseman career records for points (142, he was on pace for 142) and goals (40, he was on pace for 52).
Only one current Wolverine plays like Johnson - freshman Jacob Trouba - so the rest of the defensemen have been paying attention more to Hunwick, who is a gifted skater, smart with the puck and capable offensively when the time is right.
"He's very simple. Matt moves it quick and doesn't get himself in trouble by holding onto it," junior Kevin Clare said. "I try to keep it simple like he does and try to learn from him as long as he's around."
Though Hunwick and Johnson are not going full bore - if Johnson did he'd likely injure someone else - they are providing enough competition for the current Maize and Blue to benefit.
"For the young guys, especially, to skate with Jack Johnson and Matt Hunwick some guys will never play in the NHL or against anyone that good so being out there with them is good for them," senior center A.J. Treais said.
"I've had a couple defensemen come up to me and ask to talk hockey, and ask how I'd handle a situation or when I'd take a gamble offensively, and they've asked Jack too," Hunwick said. "It's been good for them, and good for us."
Michigan's defensive corps, minus Merrill and Serville, will look to lead the Wolverines to a sweep at Northern Michigan this weekend. The puck drops at 7:35 p.m. both nights (neither game is on TV).